Amtrak Cancels All Long-Distance Trains Ahead of Expected Railway Strike

by Suzanne Halliburton

Amtrak canceled its long-distance routes in anticipation of a railway strike that could happen as early as Thursday night.

And if the railway strike actually happens, it could cost the U.S. economy up to $2 billion a day.  

There’s a labor dispute between the unions representing about 115,000 workers and these railway companies — BNSF, Union Pacific and CSX. Amtrak is continuing with its routes through the Northeast Corridor. However, the Amtrak pause disrupts routes into areas like Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.

The potential railway strike doesn’t specifically involve workers on passenger trains. However, it does impact the passenger trains that run on freight lines.

The Washington Post reported that Amtrak paused between 24 and 28 daily trains until the unions and the railway freight companies solve the strike issues.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Amtrak officials said “such an interruption could significantly impact intercity passenger rail services.” Amtrak said it operates almost 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor on tracks owned or maintained by freight railroads.

Amtrak also said that the cancellations also could impact state-supported routes.

The railway workers are threatening a strike because sides are at an impasse over pay, sick time and working conditions. A federally mandated “cooling off” period expires Friday. Workers then can go on strike. Or the companies could lockout the union employees.

A railway strike could impact the Chicago rail system. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Late last week, the Association of American Railroads estimated that a railway strike could impact the economy by up to $2 billion a day. The association’s report said a strike could shut down more than 7,000 trains a day. Obviously, this sort of shutdown could impact the supply chain, which would trigger product shortages and possibly idle manufacturers. And the railway strike could shut down mass travel as well as those commuters heading to work each day.

The nation’s busiest corridor is Washington, D.C. to Boston. However, Amtrak owns the tracks. The Post reported that Chicago’s Metra service is expecting disruptions as early as Thursday night with its lines that run on those owned by freight railways. Meanwhile, Metrolink, which services routes in Southern California, also is expecting problems starting Thursday night. The Metrolink system operates seven lines. Five of them use tracks owned by the freight railroads.

And it’s not just passengers who will be affected. Chemical shipments, including ammonia and fertilizer, already have been pulled because of a potential strike. Plus, ethanol prices are increasing.

“If rail shuts down, our entire agricultural system shuts down,” Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer warned her colleagues Wednesday. “The stakes of these rail negotiations could not be higher.”

Eight unions already have reached tentative agreements with the railway companies. But there are four unions without a deal in place.