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Amtrak avoids more cancellations as rail strike likely averted – The Washington Post | Gmx Pharm

U.S. passenger rail systems dodged a crisis Thursday when the White House announced an interim agreement to avert a national rail strike that threatened to disrupt travel for hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The agreement, which has yet to be ratified, came a day before a possible strike by rail freight workers that would have shut down much of the country’s passenger rail service. Developments early Thursday quickly brought relief to passengers, as well as intercity and commuter rail systems facing disruptions to services.

Amtrak said it is working to resume service, which was suspended ahead of a possible work stoppage. Normal operations are expected to resume on Friday. The passenger rail company began suspending operations on Tuesday, then all of its long-distance and some state-supported trains were canceled Thursday due to the threat of strikes.

White House announces ‘tentative’ deal to avert rail strike

“Amtrak is working to quickly restore canceled trains and reach out to affected customers to accommodate the first available departures,” the passenger rail said in a statement.

It was unclear if any of the day’s departures would be restored on Thursday, but the company said it would keep passengers informed of updates.

Large regional trains had also warned commuters of possible service interruptions on Thursday evening. Officials from those agencies said they were closely following the negotiations to determine the potential impact on their operations — they are prepared to suspend service if a strike occurs.

The labor dispute over wages and working conditions between the rail freight companies and their employees’ unions had dragged on for months. Workers this week called for more flexibility to miss work for medical emergencies and other reasons without fear of disciplinary action. Negotiators had until 00:01 Friday to reach an agreement to avoid a significant hit to the economy.

Most Amtrak routes outside of the Northeast Corridor and about half of the commuter rail systems in the United States operate at least partially on railroad-owned track or right-of-way. These freight tracks would probably not have been available for passenger trains in the event of a mass strike.

Amtrak Cancellations, Passenger Frustration Grows Amid Strike Threat

After the deal was announced, some regional systems said normal operations would continue without interruption. The disruptions to passenger systems would have been felt in several major metropolitan areas, including Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Metra, a Chicago-area commuter train with four rail-operated lines, said it was restoring train service it planned to cancel in anticipation of a strike beginning Thursday night.

“We are greatly relieved that we can continue to provide the safe, reliable service you deserve and rely on,” the agency said in a statement. “Please accept our apologies for this week of uncertainty and fear, and our thanks for your patience and understanding.”

Metrolink, which serves the Los Angeles area and has begun canceling Thursday night trains, said the temporary employment contract meant the service would run as normal.

The Virginia Railway Express, which carries commuters from Northern Virginia to Washington, also warned passengers of plans to begin scheduled service on Friday.

The interim agreement between railcars and unions “should allow the Virginia Railway Express to serve Commonwealth commuters without disruption,” said AER chief executive Rich Dalton. “The thousands of Virginians who rely on VRE to get to work every day are undoubtedly relieved and delighted that they can continue to travel safely and comfortably on our trains.”

Davin Peterson, a Woodbridge, Va. resident who rides the Virginia Railway Express commuter train to the nation’s capital, said warnings earlier in the week about a possible VRE shutdown on Friday worried him. Peterson had weighed his options for coming to work at the Library of Congress on Friday and considered taking a commuter bus rather than driving.

On Thursday he said he was relieved a solution had been reached before a strike led to widespread disruption.

“The rail strike would have hurt our economy and shut down rail passenger services across the country,” he said.

DJ Stadtler, executive director of the Virginia Passenger Rail Authority, which oversees passenger transportation in the state, called the tentative agreement “welcome news” for the growing number of Virginias who depend on Amtrak. Amtrak had announced plans Wednesday night to end service to the state beginning Thursday.

While avoiding a strike and widespread cancellations, Accord Thursday came too late for some passengers whose trips had already been cancelled.

Debra Edwards, 65, shared an email she sent to Amtrak’s Customer Care inbox about her canceled trip aboard the California Zephyr. In the email, Edwards described the long-haul trip from the Midwest to the West Coast as a “bucket list” trip and a “long overdue vacation after retirement and waiting out COVID restrictions.”

She flew to Chicago from Dayton, Ohio and planned to fly home from California after another train ride on the Pacific Surfliner.

Edwards wrote that she “spent an excruciating six hours in my Chicago hotel room” looking for flights and couldn’t find a rental car. She said it cost $384 to fly home and her airline would not commit to refunding the flights she will miss from California to Ohio. She called Amtrak’s precautionary decision to cancel “extremely premature and unwarranted.”

“What took me a year of planning, packing, and excitement in advance — was obliterated in a small text message the day before — with just 24 hours’ notice,” she wrote.

Transit advocates had warned that failed negotiations would have serious consequences, essentially leading to a halt of intercity passenger trains outside the Northeast Corridor. On Thursday, Jim Mathews, president and chief executive officer of the Rail Passengers Association, welcomed news of a deal.

“This is a significant win for anyone who depends on trains, whether to get to work, home, or to buy the stuff they buy,” he said.

Updated: September 17, 2022 — 12:31 am

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