Short staffing leading to cuts? (RPA Article)

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OBS

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This change was not pushed for by the Union. It was a Management initiative that was pushed rather strongly.
 

neroden

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Well, in good news, I heard from someone inside Amtrak that they will be evaluating cuts on a route-by-route basis; if there are enough people to operate the Capitol Limited daily, it'll operate daily, etc.

If there are a few routes with shortages, I attempted to push the idea that for customers even 4 a week was a lot more practical than 3 a week (since the maximum wait time for the next train is 2 days rather than 3, a huge difference in trip planning); we'll see if the message gets through.
 

jis

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This change was not pushed for by the Union. It was a Management initiative that was pushed rather strongly.
Which probably indicates that the management firmly believes that the trains will never again get to be of a length that requires more staffing than that, if they exist at all that is. :( They just want the freedom to go over the threshold by a car or two occasionally without requiring an additional person. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

BTW what did the Union get in exchange for this? Or did they?
 

OBS

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Which probably indicates that the management firmly believes that the trains will never again get to be of a length that requires more staffing than that, if they exist at all that is. :( They just want the freedom to go over the threshold by a car or two occasionally without requiring an additional person. πŸ€·β€β™‚οΈ

BTW what did the Union get in exchange for this? Or did they?
What they received was a percentage (30 or 40 %) of the salaries saved which was distributed to the affected employees based on some formula of # of trips each crew person made over the course of the year.
 

Willbridge

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It always nice to see how little greed is need to cut your fellow employees job. Remember the On Board Baggage Handlers position, now the amount of conductor per cars.

Totally missed this change.
Even before Amtrak the head-end brakeman on GN trains could handle baggage (see below). The on-board Baggage Handlers of old took care of a lot of things that Amtrak does not do, such as caring for pets, shipments of honey bees, customs documentation, etc. We dug up the 1963 photo for ColoRail Passenger issue 24 when the UP was claiming that passenger trains didn't carry high-value "deadline" commodities.

1963 GN baggage.png
 

20th Century Rider

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If Amtrak management has been sitting on its hands and failed to realize the gravity of the situation or was hoping the problem would fix itself, maybe they should be pushing for an extension of the deadline rather than wrecking their product and hence only making their own failings obvious for all to see and giving their detractors and haters the ammunition to use against them.

Amtrak is otherwise so good at thinking up excuses. So why not think one up now and use it to lobby for a deadline extension or at least a transitional phase.
The only thing wrong about your analysis of Amtrak's management is that it simply is incapable. It can't be fixed. And if someone is telling you otherwise they don't realize... that's how the government works. It doesn't think!!!!!
 

neroden

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The only thing wrong about your analysis of Amtrak's management is that it simply is incapable. It can't be fixed. And if someone is telling you otherwise they don't realize... that's how the government works. It doesn't think!!!!!
All bureaucracies are stuck-in-the-mud and difficult to change, and particularly hard to fix. HOWEVER...

I've seen more management change and more actual fixes in government departments in my life than I've *ever* seen in "private business". Each private business is about as stuck-in-its-ways, incurable, and unfixable as can be.

Government departments CAN and DO get fixed, because they have an actual boss who has the power to demand changes: the President and Congress (or Governor and State Legislature).

Corporate CEOs select their own successors, so the rot continues forever as a rotten CEO selects a rotten successor; it requires extreme luck for a private corporation to fix anything. As I say, I've watched government departments get fixed far more often than private corporations.
 

MARC Rider

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that's how the government works. It doesn't think!!!!!
If my former agency "didn't work," and "didn't think," we'd all still be breathing nasty sulfurous, ozone-laden air on most days of the year. Other government agencies called the "US Army" and "US Navy" were able to defeat two hostile major world powers (Germany and Japan) at the same time. The mere presence of these same government agencies, warts and all, is the reason why we're not being invaded by various hostile rival powers today. Much as we might deplore the existence of the Interstate Highway system, it was built by the government. Then there's National Parks, national maps, inland and costal waterways, Social Security, Medicare, and much, much more, all courtesy of a government that apparently "doesn't work" and "doesn't think," according to some people.

Then there's the private sector. The main way they seem to make their money is by various financial manipulations, with any productive work that does get done being outsourced to the lowest quality and cheapest source they can find. In the passenger railroad world, I present to you the historical example of the Penn Central. I'll take the worst that Amtrak can offer over what the Penn Central was dishing out in 1970.
 

20th Century Rider

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Some of my fondest RR memories were of the Penn Central we took between Chicago and Phi to visit my grandma in the late 60's... my 'Nanny' lived in Elkins Park PA. The passenger always cars smelled of varnish and cleansing solution I guess they used to keep things absolutely spotless. Mother brought along some sandwiches but we did splurge on the pillows which cost 35 cents to rent for the night... the sheets they provided were always starchy and meticulously clean. The ride was like a magic carpet upon silk. I just loved to look out the window as the train left Chicago and sped through the night. Mother said I must sleep and not look out the window... but I did anyway. [Shhh! Don't tell!]

I will always have fond memories of the cleanliness, professionalism, and the 'aura' of riding the Pennsy. But you may ask, why not the New York Central? Because the Pennsy fare was always less... we didn't have much money... so that is the train we rode.

But at age 8 I was as happy as a lark. Some of my most precious railroad memories were collected on those smooth... sweet... and exciting rides between Chicago and Philadelphia. And I must never forget to mention ... grandma was standing there waiting for us with a basket of her very famous and loved raison and date cookies.

As a little kid I had no awareness or concern about what went on with Railroad Big Business and politics... I just remember the magic carpet rides between Chicago and Philadelphia. Unfortunately I don't dream about the future of rail... I dream about the days past... that were so golden.

1635126905708.png
 

cirdan

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Corporate CEOs select their own successors, so the rot continues forever as a rotten CEO selects a rotten successor; it requires extreme luck for a private corporation to fix anything. As I say, I've watched government departments get fixed far more often than private corporations.
Rotten corporations tend to rot away over time and new players come onto the market and displace them.

We have seen many once great corporations reduced to a shadow of their former selves or destroyed completely.

But government is not like that. If a Amtrak fails, there won't be a new better Amtrak rising up to replace it. There just won't be any more trains (except in the NEC).
 

cirdan

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Apparently "Amtrak Joe" really shot himself in the foot with the vaccine mandate. His "thin patience" with those who are not yet vaccinated is taking its toll on Amtrak, IMO.
I mentioned Amtrak Joe in a tongue in cheek manner. Obvious the POTUS is not personally responsible for every stupid mistake Amtrak makes. But for somebody who supposedly understands the argument for Amtrak and passenger rail better than any president in living memory, it is disappointing that he doesn't rap Amtrak management's knuckles a bit more often.
 

MARC Rider

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I mentioned Amtrak Joe in a tongue in cheek manner. Obvious the POTUS is not personally responsible for every stupid mistake Amtrak makes. But for somebody who supposedly understands the argument for Amtrak and passenger rail better than any president in living memory, it is disappointing that he doesn't rap Amtrak management's knuckles a bit more often.
I think the President has a lot more on his plate right now that's much more important to the fate of the country than the state of Amtrak long-distance passenger rail service.
 

20th Century Rider

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I think the President has a lot more on his plate right now that's much more important to the fate of the country than the state of Amtrak long-distance passenger rail service.
That is a fair assessment... we must face into the environmental crisis and make immediate changes... we must also deal with supply chain shortages and other effects of the ongoing pandemic... and must do something about the drug problem, homelessness, social security, and prison overpopulation.

Certainly the overall welfare of Americans should be prioritized by our government.
 

cirdan

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I think the President has a lot more on his plate right now that's much more important to the fate of the country than the state of Amtrak long-distance passenger rail service.
He doesn't have to micro manage Amtrak, but he could be signaling that he's keeping an eye on how things are panning out in between the more important tasks.
 

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Apparently "Amtrak Joe" really shot himself in the foot with the vaccine mandate. His "thin patience" with those who are not yet vaccinated is taking its toll on Amtrak, IMO.
How much longer do you propose we wait? The implication that holdouts will eventually get vaccinated on their own schedule is magical thinking. These people made up their minds months ago and now it's time to pack up and move to Idaho.

He doesn't have to micro manage Amtrak, but he could be signaling that he's keeping an eye on how things are panning out in between the more important tasks.
We went from a POTUS who proposed zero dollar budgets to one that proposes billions in new spending and it's still not good enough for some. πŸ˜…
 

neroden

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Apparently "Amtrak Joe" really shot himself in the foot with the vaccine mandate. His "thin patience" with those who are not yet vaccinated is taking its toll on Amtrak, IMO.
Good riddance to bad rubbish. I'm not riding the trains until the anti-vax idiots are gone anyway. It'll take time to replace them *alll*, but...

-- while it takes years to train an engineer, apparently there haven't been many anti-vax engineers
-- it doesn't take nearly as long to train a conductor and there always plenty of applicants
-- it takes even less time to train OBS and Amtrak is apparently hiring loads of OBS right now
-- it takes even less time to train mechanical staff and Amtrak is hiring too
-- it takes even less time to hire call center staff, and some of the ones operating now don't seem trained, so training must not be required before employment

I have heard rumor that Amtrak was already over 80% employees vaccinated last week with large percentages getting vaccinated every week, and that the anti-vaxxers are definitely entirely locally concentrated in particular areas, not really nationwide. So it's time IMO to push out the deadwood and replace them with sane employees.

Amtrak should have enough fully vaccinated employees to operate full service and expand service by January, and I'm not going anywhere until then anyway because of the pandemic -- that's around when the under-12s will be fully vaccinated and we might start to get some benefit from herd immunity.
 

neroden

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Rotten corporations tend to rot away over time and new players come onto the market and displace them.
Tell that to any of the natural monopolies -- power distribution, telephone network, Amazon, Facebook, former private railroads, any telecom, anything in transportation. Rotten companies *who have natural monopolies* just keep rotting for decades, and can keep rotting away for 50 or 100 years before collapsing... after which they aren't properly replaced for generations, or ever.

We have seen many once great corporations reduced to a shadow of their former selves or destroyed completely.
Yes, and this works OK in competitive markets. But not in natural-monopoly markets.

But government is not like that. If a Amtrak fails, there won't be a new better Amtrak rising up to replace it. There just won't be any more trains (except in the NEC).
This is actually not a government/private distinction. This is a natural monopoly / competitive market distinction.

If PG&E (a private, for-profit company providing electric service in California) rots and burns, there is no "new and better electric company" rising to replace it, not for decades. Because of the nature of the business.
 

Cal

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-- it takes even less time to train OBS and Amtrak is apparently hiring loads of OBS right now
Because of the big OBS shortage, that, AFAIK, was a problem before the pandemic (feel free to correct me). The pandemic just made it worse.
 

Acela150

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IIRC, and I'll have to do some digging.. The Corridor trains with the exception of Acela trains are supposed to have 2 AC's as per the Contract. I believe that any train 7 cars or more requires a 2nd AC. I do have to look into that though.
Ok.. I looked at the contract last night. My memory serves me correctly.

The LD trains operate under different Union Contracted rules than the NEC. All LD trains can operate with one Cdr and one Asst Cdr per the Union agreement. This was negotiated approx. 10 years ago, and a portion of the cost savings is distributed to crew to compensate for the extra work required.
Bingo!

-- while it takes years to train an engineer, apparently there haven't been many anti-vax engineers. IIRC the LET program takes about 2 year to complete which includes the OJT. That of course is the majority of the time.
-- it doesn't take nearly as long to train a conductor and there always plenty of applicants But are they QUALIFIED applicants?
-- it takes even less time to train OBS and Amtrak is apparently hiring loads of OBS right now True, many crew bases are extremely shorthanded.
-- it takes even less time to train mechanical staff and Amtrak is hiring too I can't comment on this as I have no knowledge of what their training requirements are
-- it takes even less time to hire call center staff, and some of the ones operating now don't seem trained, so training must not be required before employment They are trained. Just extremely poorly.

Amtrak should have enough fully vaccinated employees to operate full service and expand service by January Should implies that you're assuming. And assuming on the RR is bad business. ;)
I'm extremely curious as to your insight on how long hiring and training takes. Because it's not like walking into a job interview at a grocery store. Where IMO you'll probably know if you got the job by the time you leave. Most RR's the process from applications, physical testing (if required by the hiring RR), interviews, drug test & medical review, to start date can be anywhere from 8 weeks or more.
 

me_little_me

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I'm extremely curious as to your insight on how long hiring and training takes. Because it's not like walking into a job interview at a grocery store. Where IMO you'll probably know if you got the job by the time you leave. Most RR's the process from applications, physical testing (if required by the hiring RR), interviews, drug test & medical review, to start date can be anywhere from 8 weeks or more.
Then there is the training on handling emergencies, learning first aid, CPR and use of defibrillators, learning the Amtrak Standards rules (and unlearning it when desired?) as well as many other things.
 

neroden

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I'm extremely curious as to your insight on how long hiring and training takes.
Pfft, I just researched it and asked people who knew.

Stripped out the part where management leaves the applications on the desk without looking at them and causes internal delays -- like they do in normal times -- and looked at how long it actually takes when they're hiring aggressively. The actual training, not the "we are not calling you back for several weeks" part.

It does, indeed, look like Amtrak management may have been caught flat-footed. If so, it's their own damn fault (which is my point). They have had enough time; it was clear by June to anyone paying attention that vaccine mandates were coming.

Amtrak will have had approximately six months to prepare when all is said and done. And as you noted, they can hire someone in eight weeks if they want to (which won't mean that an engineer is ready, but should be sufficient for filling most of the other positions).

If they weren't prepping for this until a month ago, that's just mismanagement, nothing more. And if that's what happened, then... well, I think advocates may have to advocate to get some people who are capable of seeing six months ahead into Amtrak management.
 
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AFS1970

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As is evidenced by other workplaces, including some large cities, I don't think any management realized the size and scope of just how many employees did not want medical mandates. I am in the northeast so I see news from NYC more than other cities but the protests there have lead to back and forth accusations and the city implementing rarely used contingency plans.

I have a coworker who told a story of his son who is a government employee and requested a medical waiver from the vaccine due to a specific medical history. He had to meet with a government doctor, who he said was looking up his condition on google as he was questioning him. Now his history is a relatively rare condition, but one that was also fairly well documented (I had seen about it in the news) as being a contra-indication for the vaccine. It took a lot of people very high up the department ladder to finally grant the exemption and even that was listed as temporary and under review. So I can see that his specific agency was simply not prepared for anyone even asking for this.

The long and short is that I don't blame Amtrak management for not predicting something that a lot of other government and quite a few private sector bosses also didn't predict. regardless of what the final solution ends up being.
 

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