Amtrak says it will trim schedules back temporarily on several long-distance routes, including Montana's Empire Builder. In a statement, the railroad said that even though 97-percent of its workforce is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the current Omicron varient has caused a surge in absanteeism, which combined with a tight labor market, has made it impossible to guarantee safe, reliable services while maintaining the current schedules.

As of today the railroad has cut back its schedule on several long-distance routes. The Empire Builder, which runs from Chicago to Seattle and Portland, will have trains running through Montana daily Sunday through Thursday, with no service in Montana on Fridays and Saturdays. The cut-back is meant to last through the end of March.

A recent Washington Post article notes that AMTRAK is down 1,500 workers since the start of the pandemic and is struggling to hire amid a national shortage.

The Empire Builder is one of nine long-distance routes being cut from daily service to five days a week. The others are:

  • Southwest Chief  (Chicago - Los Angeles)
  • California Zephyr (Chicago - Sacramento)
  • Coast Starlight (Los Angeles - Seattle)
  • Crescent (New York City - New Orleans)
  • Texas Eagle (Chicago - Los Angeles)
  • Capitol Limited (Chicago - Washington D.C.)
  • Lake Shore Limited (Chicago - New York City)

City of New Orleans (Chicago - New Orleans)

Five more heavily-travelled long distance routes will not see any schedule reductions:

  • Silver Star (New York City - Miami)
  • Palmetto (New York City - Savannah)
  • Auto Train (Virginia - Orlando)
  • Cardinal (Chicago - New York City)
  • Sunset Limited (New Orleans - Los Angeles)

The Silver Meteor Route (New York City - Miami) will be suspended, with passengers being served by the Silver Star and Palmetto routes.

AMTRAK said it plans no employee furloughs during the ten weeks that these schedule reductions are in effect,  will continue its efforts to hire and train new employees to fill current staff vacancies, and expects to restore services as staffing levels improve.