Irene cancels: Bad weekend to go to New York

Airlines are usually the first to cancel in bad weather. With Hurricane Irene ready to slam into the Eastern Seaboard, trains and buses are getting scratched as well.

Amtrak canceled trains south of Washington, DC, for Friday-Sunday, August 27-29. So far, that doesn't include the trains that go through Charlottesville– the Crescent, Cardinal and Northeast Regional– but an Amtrak spokeswoman expects an update today.

Flash floods and debris on the tracks are the main worries, says Amtrak's Christina Leeds. Lots of times, local operators take down the track gates that keep cars off the tracks, she says. And Northeast corridor trains run on electricity, problematic if the power is out.

Over at the Charlottesville Albemarle Airport, executive director Barbara Hutchinson expects to see Dulles, Laguardia and Philadelphia airports closing tonight, affecting United and US Airways flights. "They'll want to reposition those aircraft," she says. And some of them may be riding out the storm at CHO.

US Airways has loosened its rescheduling fees for affected cities like Norfolk and Savannah. Hutchinson thinks US Airways' Charlotte hub will remain open.

Heading west appears to be a safer bet. "I don't expect Delta and American Eagle to cancel flights," she says. "That's Chicago and Atlanta."

Even buses are getting off the road. The Starlight Express has canceled its Saturday-Sunday roundtrip run to New York, and Friday afternoon bagged its Sunday-Monday run after Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of low-lying areas, says owner Dan Goff.

He's concerned about flooded tunnels and power lines on the road. "Buses are taller and not as heavy as trains," says Goff. "The buffeting on an overpass can be pretty significant."

Aside from the risk, Goff considers the massive inconvenience factors. "If it takes 11 hours to make a six-hour trip, we'd probably pull the plug," he says. "All those people from the ooast are going to be clogging up the highways."

Goff mentions that his Ruckersville-based A. Goff Limo has 18 vehicles in the Virginia Beach area that are either parked on the upper levels of Norfolk parking decks or are in the company's sandbagged garage.

"If you have 15 inches of rain by high tide at 7:45pm tomorrow," says Goff, "and storm surge of five to ten feet, there's just nowhere for it to go."

Saturday 7:43am update: Amtrak announced last night shortly before 9pm that it's canceling the Northeast Regional and other trains. One guesses the train company didn't realize that the storm would weaken to a Category 1 and swing somewhat east of its formerly predicted track.

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Hurricane Kohoutek....