Amtrak Prepares for a Shutdown



Amtrak warned Monday that a strike could soon disrupt commutes, as well as cross-country trips, and announced it was suspending some long-distance routes starting Tuesday. Negotiators are in a cooling-off period now that is scheduled to end Thursday night; as of Friday, workers could walk off the job, or the railroads could impose a lockout of passenger rail agencies, the Washington Post reports. The head of the Rail Passengers Association likes the idea of paring the schedule early. “It’s better to cancel some trains now than to send some people out onto the road and then have them stranded in the middle of nowhere because the strike has hit and the train can’t move anymore,” Jim Mathews said.

A presidential board proposed a settlement in the dispute over pay and working conditions that 10 unions have agreed to; the two largest unions, representing about 60,000 workers, are holdouts. The engineers and conductors who make up the two-person crews on each train are members of those two unions. In addition, if dispatchers for the freight railroads go out, passenger trains would be unlikely to run on freight tracks. Almost 30% of the nation’s freight moves by rail. Amtrak owns the tracks in the Northeast, which accounts for about 3% of the system, so the impact of a strike would be lesser there. Almost all of the remainder of the tracks, roughly 21,000 route miles, are owned by freight railroads.

The routes scrapped so far include Chicago to Los Angeles, Chicago to Seattle, Chicago to San Francisco, as well as part of a Los Angeles-to-San Antonio line. Amtrak is letting passengers make changes to their reservations free of charge for departures through Oct. 13. There hasn’t been a national railroad strike in the US in 30 years. (Read more Amtrak stories.)

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