January Amtrak Service Cuts Seem Likely

Amtrak Service reductions in January appear to be a near certainty.

The passenger carrier’s president, Stephen Gardner, told a congressional hearing on Thursday, that the service cuts, which are expected to involve long-distance trains, are due to expected crew shortages stemming from a COVID-19 vaccination rule the carrier imposed.

Gardner said 94 percent of Amtrak workers are full vaccinated and 96 percent have received at least one immunization.

However, the company is expected to find itself short staffed as workers who have failed to be vaccinated are terminated. Another factor, Gardner said, is a wave of retirements during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said Amtrak also has faced slow going in hiring new workers to replace the retirees and vacancies expected to be created by those who do not comply with the vaccination rule.

Gardner said vaccination rates among workers are lowest in the ranks of workers assigned to long-distance routes.

Amtrak imposed the vaccination rule in compliance with an executive order issued by the Biden administration requiring employees of government contractors to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

That mandate has been challenged in federal courts and earlier this week a judge in Georgia issued a stay of the order. Unions representing workers at Amtrak and various Class 1 railroads have filed lawsuits challenging the rules imposed by the carriers.

It is unclear how these developments might affect the expected Amtrak service reductions.

Amtrak officials have been indicating for several weeks that the passenger carrier doesn’t expect to have enough fully vaccinated workers by January to support its full national network as well the various corridor services that it offers.

An announcement of which routes will see reduced service is expected to be made next week.

Those service cuts are expected to be similar to those imposed in October 2020 when most long-distance routes were reduced to tri-weekly or quad-weekly frequency of operation. The impetus for those reductions was low patronage cause by the pandemic depressing travel.

Those service reductions were restored on a route-by-route basis in last May and June.

During his testimony, Gardner said the long-distance route service cuts are expected to be temporary with full service restored by March.

In some crew bases that serve long-distance routes, Gardner said the rate of noncompliance with the vaccine rule is relatively high.

Passengers whose trips will be disrupted by the service cutbacks will be contacted and offered the opportunity to rebook their trips.

The hearing was held by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Rail Subcommittee hearing and was titled, “Leveraging Infrastructure and Jobs Act: Plans for Expanding Intercity Passenger Rail.”

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