How Amtrak Deals with Daylight Time Changes


When the clocks go forward an hour in Spring, Amtrak trains just run an hour behind and try to make up for the delay during the rest of the trip. In Fall, when the clocks go back an hour, Amtrak simply stops its trains in the station immediately after the time change, wait one hour for the time to “catch up.”

From the notes section on the Amtrak timetable:

Amtrak operates according to prevailing local time, either standard time or daylight saving time. At the spring time change (second Sunday in March), Amtrak trains traveling overnight will become one hour late and will attempt to make up the time. At the fall time change (first Sunday in November), Amtrak trains traveling overnight will normally hold at the next station after the time change then depart on time. Arizona does not observe daylight saving time. Please observe footnotes in schedules for trains serving Arizona to determine your departure or arrival time.

Apparently, Amtrak has followed this procedure since it began operations in 1971. This Chicago Tribune article from 29-Oct-1985 states,

R. Clifford Black, Amtrak’s manager of corporate communications in Washington, conceded that “it’s a rather confusing procedure unless you spend a lot of time pondering it, and not many people do.”

Asked why Amtrak must brake for time when planes do not circle in the air for an hour, Black answered: “There aren’t that many planes flying at night. They can adjust their departure times, and they don’t make numerous intermediate stops like trains do.”

In contrast, airlines and air traffic management primarily operate on UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and simply adjust their published arrival and departure schedules where UTC times are translated into local times. Pilot and crew schedules are changed accordingly. When time changes in Spring or Fall, there are always passengers and crew members who forget to change their clocks. Consequently, in Fall, some people arrive to the airport too early. In Spring, people arrive late and miss their flights.

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