Amtrak’s president admitted to Congress on Thursday that its travelers will face service cuts and delays this winter as a consequence of President Biden‘s national COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Stephen Gardner told the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that Amtrak will reduce the number of trains traveling long distances once the mandate goes into effect.
“As part of addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19, Amtrak must comply with the federal mandate effective January 4, 2022, that employees of government contractors be fully vaccinated,” Mr. Gardner said. “However … 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.”
The service cuts could affect hundreds of thousands of travelers. In 2018, 31.7 million passengers used Amtrak.
The Amtrak chief added the workforce shortage is caused partly by the national passenger rail service’s decision to halt hiring during the pandemic because of funding “uncertainty.” That decision, coupled with retirements and Mr. Biden‘s vaccine mandate, now is poised to create travel disruptions.
“At some of these crew bases across our network, we have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees,” Mr. Gardner said. “If those employees choose 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.”
Amtrak estimates that 94% of its employees have been vaccinated against the coronavirus as of this week. Given that Amtrak has more than 20,000 employees across the U.S., that would indicate that at least 1,200 of its workers are unvaccinated.
Amtrak did not specify which of its routes would be subject to service cuts. Lawmakers speculate the cuts would fall heaviest on routes outside of the Northeast corridor given that travel times to those areas are significantly longer.
The worker shortage and travel disruptions are poised to occur even as Amtrak just received a windfall of federal funding.
Mr. Biden recently signed a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package that includes $58 billion in new funding for the passenger railway company.
GOP lawmakers note the irony of Mr. Biden‘s infrastructure package investing taxpayer money in organizations that are simultaneously being forced to cut back service because of contradictory White House’s public health initiatives.
“Amtrak just got about $60 billion in new funding, but now President Biden‘s vaccine mandates are spurring new worker shortages and service cuts, thwarting recovery from historic Amtrak losses last year,” said Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee. “Taxpayers will be paying more money for less service.”
Amtrak’s admission of planned service cuts comes one day after the Senate voted in a bipartisan fashion to nullify Mr. Biden‘s vaccine mandate.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.