Is Amtrak Going On Strike?

The nation’s freight railroads may go on a nationwide strike on September 16th if the carriers and labor unions cannot reach an agreement. While this strike may halt the transportation of raw materials and merchandise, it can also cause Amtrak to suspend service. Here’s what you should know.

Amtrak Won’t Go On Strike But Is Negatively Impacted

The potential railroad strike stems from unsuccessful labor contract negotiations between the labor unions for train crews and the major freight carriers (i.e., BNSF, CSX, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific).

These parties are currently in a 60-day cooling-off period that expires at 12:01 am EST on September 16, 2022. The nationwide railroad strike becomes effective at this deadline if an agreement still isn’t reached, meaning no freight trains will run until both sides form a new contract.

Thankfully, Amtrak engineers and conductors operate under a separate agreement that’s not subject to this strike.

However, the passenger railroad operates almost exclusively on freight mainlines outside of the Northeast Corridor, and the carrier is reducing service on shared lines in anticipation of a strike.

Freight railroads own, maintain or dispatch nearly all of the 21,000 miles that Amtrak operates on nationwide. Consequently, passenger trains cannot run on non-Amtrak tracks if there’s a freight railroad strike as there will be no dispatchers to direct traffic, and the tracks may be blocked with tied-down trains.

Acela Service Continues

Amtrak owns nearly all of the tracks it operates on in the Northeast Corridor in the New England states. Therefore, 97% of this area’s service will continue if the freight railroads suspend operations due to a labor strike.

The passenger carrier states there will be no impact to these services:

  • Acela: Between Boston, New York and Washington
  • Amtrak Hartford Line: New Haven and Springfield, MA
  • Downeaster: Boston and Brunswick, ME
  • Empire Service: New York and Albany
  • Keystone Service: New York and Harrisburg

According to Amtrak, there will be minimal changes to the Northeast Regional services.

Amtrak Suspensions So Far

Certain long-distance routes began being suspended on Tuesday, September 14th:

  • California Zephyr: Chicago-Denver-San Francisco
  • City of New Orleans: Chicago to New Orleans
  • Empire Builder: Chicago-Minneapolis-Spokane-Portland/Seattle
  • Southwest Chief: Chicago to Los Angeles
  • Texas Eagle: Los Angeles to San Antonio (Train #421)

There will be more proactive service shutdowns if progress isn’t made on the negotiations. Ultimately, all long-distance and state-supported routes operating over freight tracks can be canceled indefinitely.

Simultaneously, the freight railroads are starting to suspend intermodal and hazardous material shipments to prevent security risks on the tracks or in terminals.

What Happens If There’s A Train Cancellation?

Amtrak states they are striving to notify affected passengers at least 24 hours before departure if a train route is suspended. It’s possible to receive a full refund in this situation.

Regional passenger lines that rely on using freight-owned lines are in a similar situation as Amtrak. These commuter lines advise would-be passengers to find alternative forms of transportation during the strike period.

For example, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) cannot offer service from northern Virginia to Washington, D.C., during the strike as they operate on CSX and Norfolk Southern right of way.

Amtrak passengers should also consider different transportation methods such as flights, buses or rental cars. Those deciding to fly should review the carry-on luggage rules, which can differ by airline and be stricter than train travel.

Summary

Hopefully, a last-minute bargain can be struck between the freight carriers and transportation employee unions to keep passenger service and the supply chain rolling. However, railroad strikes occur periodically, and travelers should consider an alternate option if they must travel outside the New England states.

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