Class I railroad employee COVID-19 infections and quarantines hit pandemic high

Amtrak cases and quarantines fall for third straight week

By Bill Stephens for

Chart showing COVID infections for Class I railroad crews
COVID-19 infections and quarantines for Class I railroad workers have reached a new high, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics. (Federal Railroad Administration)

WASHINGTON — The spike in COVID-19 infections and quarantines among Class I railroad employees has continued this month and hit a pandemic high in the week ending Jan. 22, according to the most recent data from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Overall, 2,275 Class I employees contracted the virus, including 1,374 in the East and 901 in the West, in the week ending Jan. 22, the FRA data show. Some 480 railroaders in the East were in quarantine after exposure to the virus, while 1,428 were quarantined in the West.

The combined number of Class I employees sidelined due to the pandemic — 4,183 — broke the prior record of 4,100 set in the week ending Jan. 9, 2021.

The number of cases and quarantines has risen steadily since the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day as the Omicron variant has spread, FRA data show. The number of sidelined Class I employees has risen 92% since the week ending Dec. 25, 2021.

There was good news in the infection and quarantine figures for Amtrak: The number of employees out sick or quarantined due to COVID-19 has declined 85% from a peak of 722 the week ending Jan. 1.

The pandemic continued to affect Class I railroad operations, according to Surface Transportation Board data for the week ending Jan. 22.

In the West, 45 trains per day were held for lack of crews on BNSF, while the average was 30 on Union Pacific. Both figures were up from the prior week.

In the East, the average number of trains held for crews was 22 on Norfolk Southern compared to 7.7 for CSX Transportation. The NS figure jumped from 16 trains held per day for crews in the previous week, while CSX’s trains held for crews dropped slightly from 9.9.

NS has been short of crews in several locations on its system, including Birmingham, Ala., the Cincinnati-Chattanooga corridor, and the Southern Tier route across New York state.

“The data doesn’t tell a story for the Canadians and KCS. Also remember that in the background the railroads are trying to graduate trainee conductors as fast as possible, so the cavalry is coming, and the networks just need to hang together for a few more weeks,” Loop Capital Markets analyst Rick Paterson wrote in a note to clients.

Table showing Amtrak COVID infections and quarantinees
Amtrak COVID infections and quarantines continue to drop. (Federal Railroad Administration)

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