Amtrak decides to suspend vaccine mandate, statement says no more service cuts

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Amtrak announced on Tuesday that it is no longer requiring employees to get a COVID-19 vaccination and will instead allow the 500 or so workers who have still not gotten the jab to be tested instead.

In addition, officials with the rail carrier said they no longer expect to cut service to some regions of the country as previously announced, which they anticipated would stem from shortages of personnel who refused to get the shot.

“Amtrak will continue to update its vaccine policy as needed and follow the latest health and safety guidance,” said the carrier in a memo to workers.

The memo noted that the company policy change came in response to federal courts blocking the Biden administration’s enforcement of a vaccine mandate that required government contractors to make sure their staffers were vaccinated by Jan. 4, allowing exemptions only for religious or medical reasons.

“This caused the company to reevaluate our policy and to address the uncertainty about the federal requirements that apply to Amtrak,” the rail carrier said.

The company, which is a quasi-government entity, also noted that nearly 96 percent of its employees are already fully vaccinated.

Just last week, Amtrak boss Stephen Gardner warned that if more employees did not get the then-required vaccine the carrier would have to suspend service on some routes beginning in early January.

“Achieving full-service levels, while complying with the vaccination requirement and continuing to prioritize the safety of our customers and employees, is our goal,” Gardner said in prepared testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“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 added.

“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 continued, noting: “This will likely necessitate temporary frequency reductions, primarily for our long-distance services.”

But now that the mandate will not be enforced, at least for the time being, the service reduction won’t be necessary.

“After reviewing our system service plans in light of these changes, we do not anticipate having system-wide service impacts in January,” the company said.

On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Amtrak’s new policy was in line with what the administration has been advising for private-sector companies.

“Certainly vaccination or testing is something we have been recommending from the federal government, so I don’t think we have any concern,” she said during the daily press briefing.

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