- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Transportation companies scrambled yesterday to stay out of the way of Hurricane Isabel as it churns its way toward the Washington area.

Airlines canceled Mid-Atlantic flights, tied down aircraft, moved them into hangars or had the planes flown out of the storm’s path.

“We’re just kind of putting everything away,” said Jonathan Gaffney, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which manages Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports.

“Anything that can be blown down or torn down is being stored. It’s probably reasonable to believe that by [Thursday] afternoon, you won’t see any flying here.”

He recommended that anyone scheduled to fly in the next few days call his or her airline to check on flight changes before showing up at the airport.

Amtrak and Greyhound bus lines canceled schedules south of Washington as weather forecasters predicted high winds, heavy rain and possible flooding in low-lying areas.

Today, Amtrak’s Regional trains 84 and 86, which normally originate in Richmond and run to New York and Boston, instead will originate in Washington to avoid the hurricane front. Trains 76, 77 and 94 have been canceled between Newport News and Washington.

“Effectively, what we’ve done is, we’ve suspended all service south of Washington, D.C.,” spokesman Dan Stessel said.

All trains between Washington and Chicago also are canceled. Most Northeast Corridor trains will operate on normal schedules.

Airlines, Amtrak and Greyhound are allowing travelers forced to alter their plans to rebook their tickets without penalty. In some cases, refunds are available.

Any disruptions to commercial travel companies are expected to ripple throughout their national networks. Delays on flights for Washington or other large Mid-Atlantic cities would cause schedule changes for all connecting flights and airlines.

US Airways, which concentrates most of its U.S. flights in the Eastern states, stands to be affected more than most other airlines.

By late afternoon yesterday, the Arlington-based carrier had canceled 70 flights in the Mid-Atlantic region and anticipated canceling more.

“We’re working with each of the airports that are in the potentially impacted areas,” spokesman David Castelveter said. “We are studying very closely which flights we will need to cancel.”

US Airways’ penalty-free rebooking policy applies this week to airports in Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas. It includes Dulles, Reagan and Baltimore-Washington International airports.

Other airlines that have set similar policies are American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways, Northwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and United Airlines.

Unlike airlines, Amtrak cannot change its routes to avoid the storm. If sustained winds reach 60 mph, Amtrak plans to suspend train service in the affected areas.

The National Weather Service was clocking Isabel’s sustained winds at about 105 mph yesterday. However, they are expected to slow as the hurricane makes landfall.

Amtrak maintenance crews have been piling sandbags around tracks and other facilities in low-lying areas to fortify them against floodwaters. They also are putting generators, pumps and repair equipment in those locations.

Amtrak leases right of way on track south of Washington from freight railroads CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway.

“CSX and Norfolk Southern will be bearing the brunt of Isabel’s damage based on the hurricane’s path,” Mr. Stessel said.

The only track Amtrak owns runs along the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston.

“It looks like the path of the storm may spare the Northeast Corridor,” he said.

Greyhound is following a similar policy of suspending intercity bus service during hazardous weather.

Bus schedules in many parts of Virginia and North Carolina were canceled as well as southbound trips from New York and Philadelphia into those states.

“Anything that might pose a safety risk to our passengers or drivers, we would definitely suspend service,” Greyhound spokeswoman Kim Plaskett said.

Federal Express, the package-delivery service, said it would rely on its own meteorologists to decide whether to use “contingency plans” for severe weather.

Yesterday afternoon, FedEx had no plans to cancel service because of Isabel.

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