Amtrak and railroad cancellations: Agencies prepare for closures due to strike threat

Transit systems across the country were on edge Wednesday amid the threat of a strike by freight rail workers, bracing for potential travel disruptions that could affect hundreds of thousands of rail customers. Amtrak announced that it was canceling all of its long-distance trains starting Thursday.

Some regional transit agencies said they were preparing for service disruptions as early as Thursday evening before a possible shutdown at 12:01 a.m. Friday. They are making plans to contact commuters if a strike is not averted, and some are work with other agencies to direct people to bus alternatives.

Disruptions to passenger systems that operate on freight lines would be felt in several major metropolitan areas, including Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. A strike would also eliminate most Amtrak service outside of the Northeast Corridor, forcing travelers to find alternate modes of transportation or cancel plans at the last minute.

“We can just hope there’s a solution before Friday,” said Karen Finucan Clarkson, spokeswoman for the Virginia Railway Express, which carries commuters from northern Virginia suburbs to the nation’s capital. “We really hope we can hold a service on Friday. That would be best for the area.

A strike would involve workers from the two private railways that host VRE trains – CSX and Norfolk Southern – and result in the suspension of all services. Several commuter rail agencies and the vast majority of Amtrak routes operate on tracks owned by freight railroads whose workers are threatening to strike.

Amtrak cancellations, passenger frustrations grow over strike threat

Freight railways and unions representing their workers negotiated a new contract amid a long-running dispute over wages and working conditions, but failed to reach an agreement. A federally-mandated “cooling-off” period ends Friday, opening up the possibility of a strike or lockout.

The Biden administration has sought to resolve the labor dispute to avert the possibility of one of the most disruptive strikes in recent US history. The Association of American Railroads estimates that a shutdown could cost the economy more than $2 billion a day and “could idle more than 7,000 trains a day and trigger retail product shortages, shutdowns widespread manufacturing, job losses and disruption for hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers.”

The labor dispute has already taken a hit on intercity operations. Hundreds of Amtrak passengers had to change or cancel plans this week as the railroad cut cross-country trains on 10 of its 15 long-distance routes, then Amtrak announced Wednesday that all long-distance services would be suspended. The carrier said service changes on these multi-day trips, ahead of a possible strike, were necessary to avoid disruption to passengers during a route.

The DC-Boston corridor, the busiest in the country, would be virtually unaffected by a strike because Amtrak owns the tracks. But Amtrak said more cancellations are likely on its nationwide network, including on publicly funded short-haul services that operate on freight lines. Amtrak operates most of its 21,000 miles of route on track owned, maintained and shipped by freight railroads.

On Wednesday, major regional rail systems continued to encourage passengers to plan another trip later this week.

Chicago’s Metra service said customers could see disruptions starting Thursday night on lines that run on freight lanes. The agency said BSNF Railway and Union Pacific planned to start cutting service during the Thursday evening rush in preparation for a work stoppage. Four lines whose service is contracted through freight rails would be affected.

Metrolink, a seven-line network serving Los Angeles and other Southern California communities, has been warning customers for the past week of the potential for disruptions, saying Wednesday that some disruptions will likely begin Thursday evening. Five of the system’s seven lines use track owned by freight railways, 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 complete service cancellations on some routes,” the agency said in a service update.

The Maryland Department of Transportation continued to issue passenger alerts on Wednesday about the possibility of 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 provides passengers with a list of buses and other transit alternatives.

“MARC Train is prepared to provide regular service on the Camden and Brunswick lines if CSX does not experience a strike from its unions,” said Veronica Battisti, spokesperson 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 about 5,200 passengers — down about 70% from pre-pandemic levels — saw a surge in ridership after Labor Day as some subway commuters pass to the system amid a week-long closure of several subway stations south of Reagan National Airport.

“If there is a rail strike, that means for blue and yellow line passengers as well as VRE passengers, there will be no optional rail service in the district,” Clarkson said.

VRE is preparing announcements that it will air on its stations on Friday if the system is forced to shut down. The agency also coordinates with northern Virginia commuter and local bus systems that could be used as alternatives. On Wednesday afternoon, officials said, the prospects for a The strike was still unclear and hopes were dashed on Friday.

“Thursday afternoon we will have to make a decision,” Clarkson said. “If it goes over, then it may be the wee hours of [Friday] morning before we can get something out… Then we’ll send out alerts.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a railroad infrastructure advocate, called the unions’ demands “reasonable” and urged the railroads to work toward a deal that avoids a strike and significant effects on trade and transport.

“Given 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. he declares.

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