Amtrak chief announces service cuts as it struggles to meet vaccine compliance levels

An Amtrak official has announced that the rail carrier will be cutting routes and services next year due to a number of employees who refuse to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The news comes a day after President Joe Biden, who issued the mandate earlier this year, declared himself “Mr. Amtrak” during remarks in Kansas City, Mo., where he touted his infrastructure plan and took credit for a small decline in gas prices.

The announcement also comes despite the fact that the rail carrier has reported that 94 percent of its workers have gotten the jab.

“Achieving full-service levels, while complying with the vaccination requirement and continuing to prioritize the safety of our customers and employees, is our goal,” said Amtrak president Stephen Gardner in prepared testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, adding that at least 96 percent had taken one dose.

“We hope that all employees who have already received one vaccination dose, which all employees are required to receive as of today, will be fully vaccinated by January 4,” Gardner testified.

“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” next month, he added.

“This will likely necessitate temporary frequency reductions, primarily for our long-distance services,” Gardner said.

Back at the White House, press secretary Jen Psaki remarked that the company’s vaccine rate was “great news” when asked about the cutbacks, noting further that workers still have a month to comply with the mandate — which has been halted by federal courts.

She also said that the Biden administration has let it be known that employers should adhere to “their standard HR process,” meaning that workers who have yet to comply with the mandate should “go through education, counseling, accommodations, and enforcement.”

Bloomberg News added in a Thursday report that Amtrak’s staffing problems are more common to multi-day trips, and that some of them traverse areas that have lower rates of vaccinated staffers.

“This impact is primarily felt across our long-distance services because of the relatively small crew bases at intermediate points along multi-day long-distance routes where conductors and engineers report to work. At some of these crew bases across our network, we have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees,” Gardner told lawmakers.

He noted further: “If those employees chose to not get vaccinated by the deadline, we will not have sufficient trained staff to support current service frequency on affected routes, as engineers and conductors must undergo extensive training both when hired or promoted and to become qualified on the characteristics of each route on which they work.”

Gardner went on to tell lawmakers that any service reductions will be announced next week.

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