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Amtrak Derails Vaccine Mandate To Dodge Service Disruptions

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Gretchen Clayson Contributor
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Amtrak employees who have not received their COVID-19 vaccinations will be allowed to continue working as long as they provide a negative weekly test, the company announced Tuesday.

Concerns were expressed last week that Amtrak wouldn’t be able to operate all of its scheduled passenger trains when the mandate was enforced at the beginning of the year.

“Amtrak has strongly advocated that all our employees to be vaccinated and we have made great progress in achieving this important public health goal,” Amtrak President Stephen Gardner testified to a House of Representative committee. “(But) 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.”

Since establishing its vaccine mandate in August, over 95% of Amtrak’s employees have been fully vaccinated, leaving roughly 500 who have yet to get the shot, according to Fox Business.

Despite the comparatively small number, Gardner testified that a vaccine mandate for employees would exacerbate current staffing shortages, which primarily came about because of workers leaving the company during the pandemic, funding uncertainty and limitations around hiring and training.

“At some of these crew bases across our network, we have a relatively high percentage of unvaccinated employees,” Gardner said in written testimony for a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing. “He further explained that if those employees chose to remain unvaccinated by the January deadline, Amtrak would not have “sufficient trained staff to support current service frequency on affected routes.”

Stephen Flynn, chief executive officer of Amtrak attributed the change in policy to a recent federal court decision that halted President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating the vaccine for federal contractors, as reported by the New York Times. (RELATED: ‘Stopped Cold’: Federal Judge Blocks Final Part Of Biden’s Vaccine Mandate)

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

As a result of the new policy, Amtrak no longer anticipates having to make previously announced cuts to its systemwide service in January.