Posts Tagged ‘Amtrak workers’

Amtrak Executives Say Attrition, Not Furloughs Led to Shortage of Mechanical Workers

December 4, 2022

Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner and Board Chairman Anthony Coscia pushed back last week on the assertion that furloughs during the COVID-19 pandemic are responsibility for shortages of mechanical workers at the passenger carrier.

During a public meeting last Thursday in St. Louis of the Amtrak board of directors, both took issue with an assertion by Rail Passengers Association head Jim Mathews that “choices surrounding furloughs and equipment have left Amtrak struggling to accommodate demand surges – both on specific routes and over travel periods, such as Thanksgiving.”

Coscia acknowledged that Amtrak lacks adequate equipment and personnel to “bring back service the way we’d like to.”

Gardner said attrition and not furloughs are the reason for the thin workforce in Amtrak’s mechanical department.

“That’s not true, that’s not what happened,” Gardner said in response to Mathews. “What did happen was that during this period of time [the pandemic] when we could not hire we could not overcome the attrition. So last year we hired 3,600 people or so, but we also lost 1,600 people during that same period to retirements, to a change in job, [and] to relocations” and other reasons.

Gardner said about 90 percent of workers who were furloughed by Amtrak during the pandemic have since returned to their jobs.

Coscia said Amtrak is trying to rebuild a workforce “that had kind of atrophied to a certain degree.”

The question arose during a discussion about how Amtrak has a backlog of equipment idling in shops instead of being placed back into revenue service due to a lack of mechanical staff to bring those cars into operating condition.

Gardner said hiring electricians and machinists is tough to do in some locations, but Amtrak is working with its unions to find new ways to hire and train new workers. One such program is a new apprenticeship program for entry-level jobs.

“We’re working every angle to be able to restore people that make the trains available to serve our customers . . . [and] restore service and then grow,” Gardner said.

Amtrak is seeking to hire an additional 4,000 new employees in 2023, most of whom would work in the mechanical crafts where the need is most acutely felt.

Nonetheless, Amtrak management still expects to fall short of reaching full staffing by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30, 2025.

The passenger carrier expects capacity on its trains to be less than it was four years ago and forecasts it will carry 28 million passengers in fiscal year 2024, which would be 90 percent of 2019 levels.

Amtrak expects to restore capacity to pre-pandemic levels in FY2024, which begins Oct. 1, 2024. It also expects ridership during FY2025 to exceed that of 2019.

Amtrak Seeking to Hire 4,000 New Workers

August 18, 2022

Amtrak plans to hold 54 in-person and virtual job fairs to fill more than 4,000 jobs in federal fiscal year 2023.

The positions are concentrated in Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, New York, Washington, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, Miami and Wilmington, Delaware.

The open positions include project management, finance, technology, onboard services, electrical and customer service.

One of the virtual events is being dubbed Walk-in Wednesday Career Fair and will be held on the second Wednesday of each month between 1 and 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

Other virtual job fairs will be held throughout August and September. An Amtrak news release posted on its website did not specify the dates or locations for in-person hiring events.

The news release can be read at

The Amtrak job website can be reached at

In its news release, Amtrak said starting pay for all onboard service crafts is $21 an hour. Journeyman electricians start at $34.07 per hour.

Amtrak said it also has programs for paid internships and co-ops for undergrad and graduate students, as well as apprenticeship programs for entry level, skilled labor learning opportunities.

The passenger carrier said it is seeking to convert half of all eligible interns to full-time roles, including early career rotational programs in finance, human resources, IT, marketing, safety and engineering.

Thus far this year Amtrak said it has hired 2,800 new workers.

Amtrak to Reduce Service by 8%

January 15, 2022

Pandemic related staff shortages are prompting Amtrak to curtail service on most routes starting Jan. 24 for most routes and Jan. 18 on state-supported routes.

The service reductions, which Amtrak said will last through March 27, will affect 8 percent of its schedule. The passenger carrier indicated it might be able to restore service sooner on some routes depending on conditions.

In a statement, Amtrak said the service cuts were due to “staffing challenges resulting from Covid-19 pandemic and the highly active Omicron variant.”

Long distance train service frequency will fall to five days a week for the Southwest Chief, California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Texas Eagle, Capitol Limited, Lake Shore Limited, and City of New Orleans.

The Silver Meteor will be suspended entirely during the 10-week period, but there will be no service reductions for the Silver Star, Palmetto, Auto Train, Cardinal, and Sunset Limited.

Amtrak said capacity will increase as dictated by demand on the Silver Star and Palmetto to offset some of the service cuts being made to the Silver Meteor.

In corridor services, 8 percent of Northeast Regional weekly departures will be suspended while 6 percent of state-supported weekly departures will be suspended.

Trains magazine reported on its website Friday that already some trains have seen spot cancellations.

The Southwest Chief did not depart Los Angles on Jan. 9 or 12 and did not depart Chicago on Jan. 12 and 15. Some trips of the Coast Starlight also have been cancelled.

Specific cancellations have yet to be announced or posted in the Amtrak reservation system as of Friday afternoon.

Amtrak said in a statement it will contact affected passengers and offer to rebook them for travel on remaining frequencies on all routes.

On routes where there are multiple train frequencies Amtrak said it will seek to offer same-day travel alternatives.

Those unable to travel on other days will be offered a full refund of their fare.

The statement said Amtrak has seen a 25 percent drop in bookings due to the surge in COVID-19 cases coupled with seasonal declines in travel.

The statement also said Amtrak is hiring and training new employees to address staffing shortfalls resulting from last year’s furloughs and early retirements.

The Trains report quoted Amtrak sources as saying 97 percent of its employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 but the workforce continues to be hit by COVID-19 infections and exposures.

The illness has affected not just on-board personnel but also backshop workers who maintain and get the trains ready for service.

Long Distance Trains Vulnerable to Amtrak Staff Shortages

October 30, 2021

Yesterday it was reported in this space that Amtrak is facing having to temporarily curtail some train services in December due to a shortage of operating and on-board personnel.

A report posted on the website of the Rail Passengers Association on Friday provided more detail about what could happen and why.

The Amtrak worker shortage is linked to two factors: A COVID-19 vaccination rule and workforce reductions made during the pandemic when services were curtailed due to lack of passengers.

Amtrak plans to remove from service after Dec. 8 those employees who have not received at least their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Although Amtrak’s vaccination rule contains an exemption for workers who have a verified medical or religious exemption, a memorandum sent by Amtrak CEO William Flynn indicated that that will only mean unvaccinated workers will be placed on unpaid leave.

Those workers who are unvaccinated and don’t have an exemption by Dec. 8 will be fired. It remains to be seen how many Amtrak workers will be let go or placed on unpaid leave.

The RPA report said Amtrak has enough workers in the Northeast Corridor to cover most trains operating there. But the workers shortage may become particularly acute on long-distance route where the passenger carrier could face a shortage of qualified locomotive engineers.

That means that Amtrak might be reducing the frequency of service on long-distant routes to tri-weekly as it did in October 2020.

The worker shortage, RPA noted, is rooted in more than some workers declining to be vaccinated.

Amtrak furloughed dozens of workers during the pandemic in an effort to conserve cash. It also suspended its new employee recruitment and training programs.

Thus far Amtrak has not released details on what trains may be suspended and/or cut back to reduced frequency of operation.

The Flynn memo indicated that plan is still being worked out and the company wants to see what response it gets among its unvaccinated workers.

One report indicated that 80 percent of Amtrak workers have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The RPA report indicated without providing specifics that Amtrak is developing incentive programs designed to move workers to where they’re needed most. It also has stepped up hiring and training.

Cutting workers was not the only step Amtrak took during the pandemic to conserve cash. It also mothballed numerous passenger cars and now faces a shortage of mechanical workers to get those cars ready to return to the road.

The result has been that reduced consists persist with fewer coaches, sleepers and lounge cars in service.

RPA said Amtrak will soon graduate a new class of agents to answer the phones in its reservation center. Until they are on the job prospective passengers face long waits to talk with an agent by phone.

The service cuts, if they occur, will come just before and probably extend into if not through the busy Christmas and New Year’s travel season.

It takes at least six months to qualify new locomotive engineers and get then into place at crew bases on the long-distance networks.

The shortage staff issue is not news to Amtrak management, which RPA said has known about it for several months. But it is just now surfacing in the traveling public.

Worker Shortages Hindering Amtrak

October 18, 2021

Labor shortages have been a hot topic in news media reports in recent months and apparently that trend has affected Amtrak.

The Rail Passengers Association reported on its website last Friday that rumors are flying that the passenger carrier may be forced to impose service reductions due to lack of staffing, perhaps before the Thanksgiving holiday travel week.

RPA President Jim Mathews wrote that Amtrak is “chronically understaffed” and one consequence could be reducing some long-distance trains to tri-weekly service frequency and reducing the number of trains operating in the Northeast Corridor due to a shortage of operating personnel.

Mathews emphasis that this is not a certain outcome, but only that his organization is hearing that it is a possibility.

He said lack of enough employees is one factor behind why Amtrak hasn’t yet expanded traditional dining car service to long distance trains operating in the East and why train consists are shorter than in previous years.

The latter is rooted in lack of enough personnel to pick up the pace of returning stored cars to service.

2 Amtrak Workers May Face Charges

July 17, 2021

Two Amtrak workers may face criminal charges in connection with the acceptance of gifts from a construction contractor who received a $58 million contract.

The gifts involved included three trips to Philadelphia, and drinks and entertainment at a strip club for a management official, and clothing and a furnace for his church for an inspector, according to a memo written earlier this year by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General.

The two workers have since been fired. Officials have refused to release records relating to the case, saying it remains under investigation.

Amtrak Begins Recalling Furloughed Workers

March 16, 2021

Amtrak was to begin the process of recalling furlough employees on this week.

An internal memo said 1,250 furloughed workers would be recalled between March 16 and 29 while noting that it would take 90 days to get all of them back to work.

During that 90-day period the furloughed workers will be tested and requalified as needed in their respective positions.

The recalls were mandated in the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill that was approved by Congress and signed by President Joseph Biden.

The legislation appropriated $1.7 billion in supplemental funding for Amtrak to, among other things, restore daily service to 16 long distance trains that operated daily until last year.

The restoration of daily service is to take place on a rolling schedule on May 24, May 31 and June 7.

The Amtrak memo indicated that the first employees to be recalled would be those in train and engine service followed by onboard service personnel.

The affected workers will be contacted by a phone call that will be followed up with a certified letter.

In the memo Amtrak indicated that although workers are expected to respond to the recalls within the time frame outlined in their craft’s collective bargaining agreement, the carrier is seeking to provide some flexibility so workers can take care of personal matters before reporting back to work at Amtrak.

Bill Would Mandate Daily Service for Amtrak Long-Distance Trains

February 25, 2021

A Montana senator has introduced legislation to require Amtrak to reinstate daily service to most of its 15-long distance routes.

The bill sponsored by Jon Tester (D-Montana) also would require the passenger carrier to reinstate furloughed workers.

Last October, Amtrak reduced the frequency of most long-distance trains from daily to tri-weekly.

Less than daily operations of two New York-Miami routes began last July while two other routes, the Sunset Limited (New Orleans-Los Angeles) and Cardinal (Chicago-New York) have operated tri-weekly for several years.

Only the Auto Train between Lorton, Virginia, and Florida has continued to run daily.

Amtrak cited steep ridership and revenue declines triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic for reducing the frequency of its long-distance trains.

In introducing his bill, Tester said in a statement that Amtrak’s service reductions “were an unacceptable attack on rural America.”

Tester’s bill would authorize and appropriate federal grants to Amtrak to pay for reviving daily service and recalling furloughed workers.

In a statement, Amtrak said it wants to resume daily service on route that had it before the pandemic and to recall furloughed workers.

The statement noted that a pandemic relief bill approved by a congressional committee contains funding to do that.

That bill is pending before the full House of Representatives.

Tester said he hopes that daily service on Amtrak long-distance routes can be achieved before the start of the summer travel season.

Amtrak, BRS Reach Tentative Contract Agreement

March 21, 2018

Amtrak and the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen have reached a tentative contract covering wages and fringe benefits.

BRS said in a news release that the pact calls for a wage increase through 2021, with an 18.8 percent compounded increase over the life of the agreement.

Also, the new contract calls for freezing the monthly health care contribution, with new benefits provided. It also establishes a new-hire alternative health care plan.

BRS members must vote to ratify the agreement before it goes into effect.