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Amtrak moves toward airline-style pricing on its lowest train fares

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 2/25/2020 Curtis Tate, USA TODAY

a silver train traveling down train tracks near a forest: A southbound Amtrak train passes through a tunnel in Garrison, New York Jan. 30, 2020. The train originated in Rensselaer, N.Y. and was headed to Penn Station in New York City. © Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News A southbound Amtrak train passes through a tunnel in Garrison, New York Jan. 30, 2020. The train originated in Rensselaer, N.Y. and was headed to Penn Station in New York City. Amtrak passengers who pay for the lowest train fares will not be able to receive a refund if they cancel, and others will pay a fee for changes made within 14 days of travel.

The new fare structure will take effect on March 1, bringing the national passenger railroad closer to airline-style pricing.

Amtrak's president and CEO, Richard Anderson, came to the railroad from Delta Air Lines and has made other changes, such as prepackaged meals on long-distance routes, that resemble airline practices.

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For now, Amtrak is not planning to charge airline-style baggage fees or give its passengers airline legroom.

Amtrak says the changes will allow it to offer deeper discounts, with coach fares starting at $9. Such "Saver Fares" cannot be refunded, changed or upgraded 24 hours after purchase.

Passengers who purchase the next tier, "Value Fares," may have to pay a fee to change or cancel within 14 days of travel.

"Flexible Fares," which include Acela and business class seats, sleeping car accommodations and rail passes, will still allow travelers to cancel or change their tickets without penalty.

Amtrak carried a record 32.5 million passengers last year, and has reduced its losses. Congress created Amtrak in 1970 to save what was left of an extensive network of intercity passenger trains operated by private companies. 

Anderson has also indicated that he'd like to shorten Amtrak's long-distance routes, few of which have changed in the past 50 years but which remain popular with a key constituency that controls Amtrak's funding: Congress.

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