By ROD ZOOK
HUTCHINSON— Amtrak’s Southwest Chief will return to full service Monday. The train service was reduced to five days per week due to staffing shortages caused by the pandemic.
“We still have a lot of hiring to do but we’re able to have enough hiring and enough cars back in service, post pandemic, to restore service on the Southwest Chief,” Amtrak Spokesperson Marc Magilari said. “We’re very glad to be back doing that across central Kansas and the full route of the Southwest Chief.”
Despite hiring more than 1500 people this spring, Magilari says the staff shortages continue. The shortages are across the board from maintenance crews to conductors and locomotive engineers.
“We need several thousand more nationally,” Magilari said. “Whether they’re conductors or engineers or the people who work to maintain our trains from the mechanical department, we need to get some more people on board.”
While the Chief is back to seven days per week, the staffing issues are still limiting service elsewhere.
“We’re still not back to 100% service elsewhere in the country,” Magilari said. “In New Orleans we’re not running daily trains that are normally daily…we’re still not restoring all of our service even here in the Chicago area.”
Amtrak is also working to get their fleet of cars and locomotives up and running again but staffing shortages are slowing that process. Because of that the Chief will be running with fewer coaches.
“I would expect our train will remain undersized throughout the summer,” Magilari said. “Because when the pandemic was at its worst, we were directed not to fill every job that opened, and we didn’t and now we’re trying to catch up.”
The Chief runs from Chicago to Los Angeles and serves Lawrence, Topeka, Newton, Dodge City and Garden City in Kansas. In a non-pandemic environment, Amtrak serves about 6,000 passengers each year in Hutchinson.