Amtrak has announced temporary service cuts to its national network train service due to "staffing challenges resulting from Covid-19 and the highly active Omicron variant," according to a company statement. 8% of service to the Northeast Corridor will be reduced where trains are much more frequent but the percentage rises to over 20% in "flyover country" where service has been down to one train each way daily for years.
Service on the daily Texas Eagle will be reduced to five days a week and the temporary curtailments could continue until March 27th. However Amtrak has publicly committed to restoring service earlier if conditions change.
There will be no Southbound service on Texas Eagle train #21 that departs Chicago on Wednesdays and Thursdays, meaning that Southbound travel within Texas will not occur on Thursdays and Fridays between Texarkana, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.
There will be no Northbound service on Texas Eagle train #22 that departs San Antonio on Wednesdays and Thursdays enroute to Chicago. Amtrak said it is working to resolve the issue by hiring more employees and training new staff members. Where there are multiple daily services riders impacted by service reductions will be offered same-day travel alternatives. However this will not be helpful on the western trains that only operate one service in the same direction a day. Amtrak said customers will be notified about changes, according to the statement.
“Amtrak is doing the best it can with a bad hand,” according to President/CEO Jim Mathews of DC-based Rail Passengers Association. Mathews has criticized previous Amtrak service cuts but said that the current reductions are all probably inevitable. “The temporary cutbacks will be in the reservation system and scheduled, rather than being an unpleasant surprise. Amtrak is promising that those who are already booked will either get rebooked or refunded.” Amtrak's short term issue magnifies management's disinvestment in maintaining enough operating, onboard service and maintenance staff across the nation. The company made no concerted effort to step up recruiting at long distance crew bases last fall, even with available government Covid-relief funds. Uncertainties in the labor market and the ups and downs of virus variants have caught Amtrak playing catch-up and led to train cancellations. The recently passed Investment Act has given Amtrak a new funding lease on life for the national network, one which supporters hope the company will use to its advantage.