Most Amtrak Routes outside the Northeast Corridor and many commuter rail systems—including Chicago’s Metra and those serving Washington’s Maryland and Virginia suburbs—use track owned by freight lines. The freight industry has warned that a walkout as early as Friday would shut down 30% of the nation’s freight and “stop most passenger and commuter rail services”. No agreement had been reached on Tuesday evening.
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Amtrak’s first round of cancellations, announced on Monday, began hitting U.S. stations on Tuesday, with canceled trips on three long-distance trains from Chicago to the West Coast. The carrier announced another round of cancellations for Wednesday on these routes and seven other long-distance routes. The company said it was halting multi-day train journeys “to avoid possible disruption to passengers during the journey”.
Patrick Bayer, 33, received an alert around 11 a.m. Tuesday that his train from Chicago to Seattle was canceled, prompting a dash book a flight to Seattle for a work conference. Bayer had carefully planned a mini-train vacation aboard the Empire Builder before the conference.
“It’s frustrating,” said Bayer, a data analyst from Philadelphia, who noted he was looking forward to his third cross-country train trip and the views of the Mississippi River, the skyline of Minneapolis and Glacier National Park. After packing, he also had to cancel a Wednesday morning flight from Philadelphia to Chicago, where he was to board the train.
“I had to manage this morning and change flights, unfortunately, when the train was cancelled,” he said.
The service reduction affects 10 of Amtrak’s 15 long-distance routes, but the company said adjustments are possible for all long-distance routes and most state-funded routes.
Bayer considered rescheduling its train trip to Thursday, but said it became clear disruptions to Amtrak travel to the Pacific Northwest were likely to continue 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 have signed on, but the two largest have rejected offers. A federally-mandated “cooling-off” period ends Friday, opening up the possibility of a nationwide strike or lockout.
Amtrak cancels some long-distance trips as threat of freight strike looms
If the freight railway dispatchers – whose job it is to dispatch trains – are not working, passenger trains would probably not be able to run on the freight tracks.
Amid the uncertainty, some regional transport agencies are alerting passengers to the closures, while others say they are trying to assess the extent of any disruption.
The Maryland Department of Transportation said freight railroad CSX notified it of the possibility of a strike beginning Friday. The state said a strike would result in the “immediate suspension” of all service 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 informed VRE of the possibility of a labor strike, which would suspend all VRE rail service until a resolution is reached. found.
“We of course remain hopeful of a resolution,” the agency said in a notice to passengers. “VRE recommends that users plan other transport options in the event of a strike. We will continue to monitor the situation as events unfold and keep our riders informed.
Metrolink, a seven-line network serving Los Angeles and other Southern California communities, warned customers last week of the potential for disruptions. Five of the system’s seven lines use track owned by freight railways, meaning up to 70% of customers could be affected.
“We are largely working in the dark,” agency spokesman Scott Johnson said, adding that the agency would not be able to provide alternative transportation, such as buses, in case of strike. “Due to the possible expansive nature and high number of trains, there simply aren’t enough buses to provide 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 should also not be affected. New Jersey Transit also didn’t expect any disruptions.
A strike would also leave much of the Northeast Corridor essentially unscathed as Amtrak owns the tracks, although minor schedule changes are likely on a small number of Northeast Regional trains serving destinations from Virginia to Boston. Amtrak will allow passengers to change their reservation free of charge for departures scheduled through October 31.
Amtrak said Tuesday it is closely monitoring labor negotiations over wages and working conditions. Amtrak operates the vast majority of its 21,000 miles of route on tracks owned, maintained and shipped by freight railroads.
Amtrak officials said the carrier will only operate services this week that will have enough time to reach their final destination. Affected passengers include those traveling on 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 phased adjustments,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “These adjustments are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight rail service is disrupted if a resolution in negotiations is not found.”
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The possible strike and early train cancellations have heightened traveler anxiety.
“We’re traveling from WAS to NWK next week and I’m starting to get a little nervous that our train is going to be cancelled,” said a passenger from Maryland. tweeted at Amtrak Tuesday afternoon.
another passenger who had left New York said he was stuck in Chicago, where his train to Seattle was cancelled. “I’ve been looking forward to this for over a year – sad don’t begin to describe it lol”, the passenger tweeted.
Others pleaded for more information on the train status later in the weekwhile some interrogates why Amtrak was canceling trains that had to arrive at their destination before any strikes. Amtrak long-distance trains often arrive late at their destination.
Jim Mathews, president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, said canceling trains earlier this week made sense to avoid a scenario in which rail passengers could find themselves stranded.
“It’s better to cancel some trains now than to send people on the road and leave them stranded in the middle of nowhere because the strike has hit and the train can’t move,” he said. “In the meantime, we are all crossing our fingers so that finally [the railroads and labor unions] come to a settlement.
The disruptions come as demand for intercity trains are on the rise as the industry faces uncertainty due to staffing shortages.
A third of Amtrak customers experienced delays in July, according to performance data, with an average delay of 71 minutes. Disruptions are more pronounced for travelers on long-distance routes – which are late more than half the time – and in parts of the country outside the Northeast Corridor.
Ian Duncan contributed to this report.
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