Most Amtrak routes Outside of the Northeast Corridor and many commuter rail systems, including the Chicago Metra and those serving the Maryland and Virginia suburbs of Washington, use railroad tracks owned by freight lines. The freight industry warned that a workers’ strike as early as Friday would shut down 30 percent of the country’s freight transport and “stop most passenger and commuter rail services.” No agreement had been reached by Tuesday evening.
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Amtrak’s first round of cancellations, announced Monday, began hitting U.S. stations on Tuesday, with travel canceled on three long-distance trains connecting Chicago to the West Coast. The carrier announced another round of cancellations for Wednesday on those routes and seven other long-distance routes. The company said it was organizing multi-day train trips “to avoid possible passenger interruptions along the way.”
Patrick Bayer, 33, received a notice around 11am Tuesday that his Chicago to Seattle train had been canceled, resulting in a run. book a flight to Seattle for a business conference. Bayer had carefully planned a mini-train vacation aboard the Empire Builder prior to the conference.
“It’s frustrating,” said Bayer, a data analyst from Philadelphia, who noted that he was looking forward to his third train trip across the country and views of the Mississippi River, Minneapolis skyline, and Glacier National Park. . With his bags packed, he also had to cancel a Wednesday flight from Philadelphia to Chicago, where he was to board the train.
“I had to jump in this morning and switch to flights, unfortunately, when the train was canceled,” he said.
The service reduction affects 10 of Amtrak’s 15 long-haul routes, but the company said adjustments to all long-haul and most state-funded routes are possible.
Bayer considered rebooking its train journey for Thursday, but said it has become clear that Amtrak’s travel disruptions in the Pacific Northwest are likely to continue for the rest of the week. After a presidential council recommended a compromise between freight companies and unions, 10 of the 12 unions involved in the talks signed, but the two largest did refused offers. A federally enforced “afterthought” period ends Friday, opening up the possibility of a nationwide strike or lockout.
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If freight rail freight forwarders – whose job it is to route trains – don’t work, passenger trains probably won’t be able to run on freight tracks.
Amid the uncertainty, some regional transport agencies are warning passengers of closures, while others say they are trying to gauge the extent of any disruptions.
The Maryland Department of Transportation said the CSX freight railroad had been alerting it to the potential strike starting Friday. The state said a strike would result in “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.
The Virginia Railway Express in Northern Virginia said CSX and Norfolk Southern have notified VRE of the potential labor strike, which would result in the suspension of all VRE rail service until a resolution is reached.
“Of course we hope for a solution,” the agency said in a notice to passengers. “VRE recommends motorcyclists to plan alternative commuting options in the event of a strike. We will continue to monitor the situation as the events unfold and we will keep our drivers informed ”.
Metrolink, a seven-line network serving Los Angeles and other Southern California communities, warned customers last week of potential outages. Five of the seven lines in the system use railroad-owned tracks, meaning up to 70% of customers could be affected.
“We are working largely from a position of obscurity,” agency spokesman Scott Johnson said, adding that the agency would not be able to provide alternative means of transportation, such as buses, in the event of a strike. “Due to the possible expansive nature and the large number of trains, there are simply not enough buses to provide an alternative service.”
Not all commuter rail operations would be affected. RTD, the transit agency serving Denver, said it did not expect its lines to suffer during a strike. The nation’s largest transit operator, New York’s MTA, said its two commuter rail services shouldn’t be affected either. New Jersey Transit also did not expect interruptions.
A strike would also leave much of the northeastern corridor mostly unscathed because Amtrak owns the tracks, although minor schedule changes are likely on a small number of northeastern region trains serving destinations from Virginia to Boston. Amtrak will allow passengers to change their booking free of charge for scheduled departures until October 31st.
Amtrak said Tuesday it is closely monitoring labor negotiations on pay and working conditions. Amtrak operates the vast majority of its 21,000-mile route on proprietary tracks, maintained and shipped by freight railways.
Amtrak officials said the carrier will only operate services this week that will have enough time to do so reach their final destination. Affected passengers include those with trips aboard the Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Lake Shore, Silver Star, Sunset Limited, and Texas Eagle.
“While we hope the parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun the phased adjustments,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. “These adjustments are necessary to ensure that trains can reach their terminals before the disruption of the rail freight service if a resolution is not reached in the negotiations.”
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The possible strike and the early cancellation of trains have increased anxiety among travelers.
“We’re traveling from WAS to NWK next week and I’m starting to get a little nervous that our train will be canceled,” a Maryland passenger tweeted at the Amtrak on Tuesday afternoon.
Another passenger who had departed from New York said he was stuck in Chicago, where his train to Seattle was canceled. “I have been looking forward to this for over a year – sad doesn’t begin to describe it lol,” the passenger tweeted.
Others have asked for more information on the status of trains during the weekwhile some questioned because Amtrak was canceling scheduled trains to reach destinations before any strikes. Amtrak’s long-distance trains often arrive late at their destinations.
Jim Mathews, president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, said canceling trains earlier in the week makes sense to avoid a scenario where rail passengers could get stuck.
“It is better to cancel some trains now than to send some people on the road and then leave them stuck in the middle of nowhere because the strike has hit and the train can no longer move,” he said. “In the meantime, let’s all keep our fingers crossed at last [the railroads and labor unions] reach an agreement “.
The interruptions arrive as a request for Intercity trains are on the rise as the sector faces uncertainties due to staff shortages.
A third of Amtrak customers experienced delays in July, according to performance data, with an average delay of 71 minutes. Disruptions are most pronounced for travelers on long-distance routes – who are delayed more than half the time – and in parts of the country outside the Northeast Corridor.
Ian Duncan contributed to this report.