Disruptions to passenger systems operating on freight lines would be felt in several large metropolitan areas, including Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. The strike threat has also eliminated most Amtrak services outside the Northeast Corridor, forcing travelers to find other means of transportation or cancel plans at the last minute.
Amtrak canceled the service on all of its long-distance routes starting Thursday, most of which have one daily trip in each direction and provide cross-country connections for thousands of Americans. Between 24 and 28 daily trains will not operate while the service is suspended.
“One can only hope there is a solution before Friday,” said Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokesperson for the Virginia Railway Express, which transports commuters from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to the nation’s capital. “We really hope to be able to perform a service on Friday. It would be the best for the region “.
A strike would involve the workers of the two private railways that host the VRE trains – CSX and Norfolk Southern – and would result in the suspension of all service. Several commuter rail agencies and the vast majority of Amtrak routes operate on tracks owned by freight railways whose workers are threatening to strike.
Passenger trains, grain shipments to be stopped, while the railway strike looms
The freight railways and the unions representing their workers are negotiating a new contract as part of a long dispute over wages and working conditions, but have not come to an agreement. A federal government-mandated “afterthought” period ends Friday, opening up the possibility of a strike or lockout.
The Biden administration sought to resolve the labor conflict to avert the possibility of one of the most disruptive strikes in recent US history. The Association of American Railroads estimates that a closure could cost the economy more than $ 2 billion a day and “could stop more than 7,000 trains a day and trigger shortages of retail products, widespread production closures, lost jobs. work and disruptions to hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers. “
The labor dispute began targeting long distance operations earlier in the week. Hundreds of Amtrak passengers had to change or cancel plans as the railroad stopped trains crossing the country on 10 of its 14 long-distance routes before expanding the suspension on Wednesday. The carrier said changes to those multi-day trips, prior to a possible strike, were necessary to avoid disruption to passengers on a route.
The Washington to Boston corridor, the busiest in the nation, would mostly not be affected by a strike because Amtrak owns the tracks. But Amtrak said more cancellations are likely, including state-funded short-haul service running on freight lines. Amtrak operates most of its 21,000 miles of route on proprietary tracks, maintained and shipped by freight railways.
Major regional rail systems on Wednesday continued to encourage passengers to plan alternative journeys later this week.
Chicago’s Metra service said customers could see outages starting Thursday night on lines running on freight tracks. The agency said BSNF Railway and Union Pacific are planning to begin reducing service during the Thursday night ride in preparation for the work stoppage. Four lines that have a contracted service on freight rails will be affected.
Amtrak cancellations, passenger frustration grows amidst strike threat
Metrolink, a seven-line network serving Los Angeles and other Southern California communities, has been warning customers since last week of potential outages, saying Wednesday that some outages are likely to begin Thursday night. Five of the seven lines in the system use railroad-owned tracks, meaning up to 70% of customers could be affected.
“We are coordinating with our rail partners to provide as many alternative services as possible, but there may be full service cancellations on some lines,” the agency said in a service update.
The Maryland Department of Transportation continued to issue warnings Wednesday to passengers about the potential for an “immediate suspension” of all services on two of its three MARC commuter lines serving the district: one to Baltimore and another to Martinsburg. W.Va. officials said MARC is providing passengers with a list of buses and other transit alternatives.
“MARC Train is ready to run regular scheduled service on the Camden and Brunswick lines should CSX not suffer a labor strike from their unions,” said Veronica Battisti, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transit Administration.
In Virginia, the suspension of VRE service is likely to affect up to 10,000 daily commuters. The railroad, which until recently carried around 5,200 passengers – about 70% fewer than pre-pandemic levels – saw a spike in passengers after Labor Day, when some subway commuters switched to the system during a closure. several weeks of several subway stations south of Reagan National Airport.
“If there is a rail strike, it means that for those blue and yellow line runners as well as the VRE runners, there will be no rail service as an option in the district,” Clarkson said.
All you need to know about the upcoming rail strike
VRE is preparing announcements that will run at its stations on Friday if the system is forced to shut down. The agency is also coordinating with commuter and local bus systems in Northern Virginia that could be used as alternatives. As of Wednesday afternoon, officials said, the outlook for a the strike was not yet clear and the hopes were for no effect on Friday.
“We’ll have to make a decision on Thursday afternoon,” Clarkson said. “If it goes all the way to the wire, then it could be the first few hours of [Friday] morning before we can get something out … Then we’ll send out alerts. “
Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), A supporter of rail infrastructure, called the demands of the unions “reasonable” and urged the railways to work for an agreement that avoids a strike and significant effects on trade and transport.
“Given the fact that Amtrak has already preemptively canceled a number of its long-distance trains in anticipation of a strike, it doesn’t take much imagination to predict the mess a strike would cause,” he said.