Amtrak Says It Will Need to Reduce Service Unless More Employees Get Fully Vaccinated

Amtrak will have cut back on service in January unless more resistant employees get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to President Stephen Gardner.

Gardner told a congressional panel on Thursday that 94 percent of Amtrak's workers are fully vaccinated and 96 percent are partially vaccinated. Employees of federal contractors must meet the January 4 deadline to get fully vaccinated, which could pose challenges for the company.

Gardner said Amtrak hopes all employees will be fully vaccinated by the deadline, but the loss of workers and hiring freezes during the pandemic means that they will not have enough employees once the mandate takes effect.

"This will likely necessitate temporary frequency reductions, primarily for our long-distance services," he said.

Long-distance services will be impacted most by the mandate because there are already small crew bases at points along long-distance routes, Gardner said.

"At some of these crew bases across our network, we have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees. 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," he added.

Gardner said that Amtrak is working to designate what services will be reduced and plans to announce the changes by next week so that any affected customers can be rebooked.

"Our goal, of course, will be to have as few impacts to service as possible as we take these vital public health steps to help end the COVID-19 pandemic and reduce the spread of the new Omicron variant, and we will be prepared to reinstate frequencies as soon as the number of available employees permits," Gardner said.

Amtrak Service Cuts Possible
Amtrak will have cut back on service in January unless more resistant employees get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to President Stephen Gardner. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Gardner said any service reductions would last until Amtrak is able to fully staff, which he said could last until March.

The official's warning about service cuts comes as Amtrak tries to recover from a steep drop in passenger traffic that started last year. Gardner said Amtrak has restored most service and about 70 percent of passenger traffic has returned.

Amtrak said in August that all employees would need to get vaccinated or be tested weekly for COVID-19. In September, President Joe Biden ordered that federal workers and employees of federal contractors be fully vaccinated by December 8, a deadline that was later delayed until January 4.

This week, a federal judge in Georgia blocked the administration from enforcing the mandate, saying that Biden exceeded his authority in issuing the executive order for vaccinations. The ruling expanded one issued by a federal judge in Kentucky that was limited to contractors in three states.

Separately, other judges have held up Biden's vaccine mandates for health care workers and companies with at least 100 employees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.