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(Reuters) — Passenger railroad Amtrak told a U.S. House of Representatives panel Thursday it expects to be forced to cut some service in January because of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
Amtrak President Stephen Gardner told a House Transportation subcommittee that 94% of employees have been fully vaccinated, and 96% have received at least one vaccination dose ahead of a Jan. 4 deadline.
“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,” Mr. Gardner said. “This will likely necessitate temporary frequency reductions, primarily for our long-distance services.”
Amtrak said in August it had about 18,000 employees.
Mr. Gardner said it expects the reductions in 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.”
He noted many engineers, conductors and on-board service employees retired or left Amtrak and it temporarily halted hiring due to funding uncertainty.
Without additional employee vaccinations “we will not have sufficient trained staff to support current service frequency on affected routes, as engineers and conductors must undergo extensive training. ... We are currently determining what service reductions will be necessary and intend to communicate them publicly by next week.”
Mr. Gardner added Amtrak “will be prepared to reinstate frequencies as soon as the number of available employees permits.”
Congress has approved $66 billion for rail as part of a massive infrastructure bill, with Amtrak receiving $22 billion and $36 billion for competitive grants.
Mr. Gardner said the funding “will require educating, hiring, training, and developing career paths for thousands of additional workers who will be needed to fill jobs requiring high levels of skill that provide good wages and benefits.”