Amtrak Temporarily Stopping Some Services Due to Staff Shortages
Amtrak Temporarily Stopping Some Services Due to Staff Shortages

By Naveen Anthrappully

Amtrak will be cutting some services because of staff shortages due to the COVID-19 federal vaccine mandate, according to testimony given to Congress on Thursday.

Amtrak President Stephen Gardner told the House Transportation subcommittee in a written testimony (pdf) that 94 percent of the company’s staff members have been fully vaccinated while 96 percent have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

“However, because many engineers, conductors and on-board service employees retired or left Amtrak during the pandemic, and we temporarily halted hiring due to funding uncertainty and covid-related distancing requirements that inhibited training, we anticipate that we will not initially have enough employees to operate all the trains we are currently operating when the federal mandate takes effect,” said Gardner.

All federal contractors must get vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022, according to a White House mandate set by the Biden administration. Amtrak employs more than 20,000 employees.

Amtrak’s long-distance services are particularly affected as crew bases across the country “have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees.” As it is unlikely all employees will meet the deadline as set forth by the administration, Amtrak “will not have sufficient trained staff to support current service frequency on affected routes.”

The transportation company will reveal the affected routes next week, according to Gardner. “We anticipate proactively needing to temporarily reduce some train frequencies across our network in January to avoid staffing-related cancellations, with our plan to fully restore all frequencies by March or as soon as we have qualified employees available,” he said.

Regarding qualified personnel, an inspector general report (pdf) released on Tuesday said that the company faces hiring challenges as it does not have the “sufficient leadership or staff” to recruit and onboard new team members.

Amtrak has received a $22 billion grant as part of the administration’s infrastructure bill, which allocated $66 billion for rail.

When asked about the Amtrak president’s testimony, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that she does not expect disruptions to affect essential services.

“We don’t expect these requirements will cause disruptions to services that people depend on,” Psaki said during a briefing. “There is some time to implement it. We are of course working with all federal contractors and federal employees and parts of the federal government to implement this going forward.”

The vaccine mandate has been temporarily put on hold due to a ruling federal judge’s ruling in Georgia on Tuesday.

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