Amtrak Worker Shortage May Threaten Passenger Safety
Amtrak, America’s federal passenger railroad service, has a patchy safety record. Now the carrier faces a new crisis that threatens the safety of passengers and crew: a scarcity of new employees.
It’s not a problem unique to the railroads. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants, airlines, local government, big corporations, and trucking companies have struggled to hire workers. However, Amtrak’s struggles place basic services at risk. We are alarmed the Amtrak worker shortage may threaten passenger safety.
The Washington Post reported the crisis comes at a time when the Biden administration is giving Amtrak the biggest financial boost in its history via the new infrastructure package.
The Post notes Amtrak is down about 1,500 workers since the pandemic began, leaving it unable to launch new routes, resume pre-COVID-19 level services in many areas, and expand dining on some trains.
While the infrastructure bill pumps $66 billion into the railroads, money that will help Amtrak launch new routes and tackle a backlog of projects, the intercity service is being held back by a worker crisis.
The worker shortage has already affected Virginia, according to the Post. Officials expected two new routes to be added to the network in 2021 — one to Norfolk and one to Roanoke. Those launch dates have been delayed until 2022.
The Post reported Amtrak is down to about 80 percent of its normal schedule following deep cuts in 2020, the year COVID hit. A mandatory vaccination policy set to be enforced in January threatens the termination of 6 percent of Amtrak’s workforce.
As railroad injury lawyers, we are concerned the staffing crisis could impact the safety of passengers and workers. Amtrak is in fierce competition with other railroads to lure experienced mechanics and train engineers, as well as maintenance staff, cooks, and cleaners.
Other railroads that operate in Virginia and further afield face similar challenges. The Post notes freight railroads Norfolk Southern and CSX face worker retention issues. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports railroad companies that employed 160,500 people at the start of 2020 were down to 142,500 people by Nov. 2021.
Labor shortages have the potential to affect basic safety operations. America’s trucking industry has been down about 60,000 drivers in recent years, a figure that is likely to be driven higher by the pandemic. As well as causing supply chain issues and inflation, it increases the pressures on truck drivers resulting in longer hours and greater fatigue. In some cases, trucking companies are employing inexperienced drivers or those with poor driving records. The net effect is likely to be more trucking accidents and injuries.
A staffing crisis in the railroad industry could cause a similar problem. Amtrak trains have been involved in a spate of accidents in recent years before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Sept. 2021, an Amtrak train derailed in Montana, killing three passengers and injuring dozens more.
Causes of these crashes range from human error such as when trains are traveling too fast around curves or defects on aging track. The Amtrak worker shortage may impact passenger safety as well as that of crew members. At Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers, we hold railroads accountable for injuries and deaths to passengers and staff across the country. Call our Virginia-based railroad accident team for a free consultation at (757) 231-7417.