So it begins: on Wednesday afternoon, Amtrak said it will cancel all long distance trains starting Thursday, September 15 “to avoid possible passenger disruptions while enroute” as White House-led talks between freight-rail companies and unions continued in a race to avoid a rail-system shutdown Friday.
“Such an interruption could significantly impact intercity passenger rail service, as Amtrak operates almost all of our 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor on track owned, maintained, and dispatched by freight railroads,” the company said in a statement Wednesday, adding that it has already started phased adjustments which “include canceling all Long Distance trains and could be followed by impacts to most State- Supported routes”
“Adjustments are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached”
The good news: most travel within the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor (Boston – New York – Washington) and related branch lines to Albany, N.Y., Harrisburg, Penn,, and Springfield, Mass., would not be affected. Additionally the Acela service is not affected, and only a small number of Northeast Regional departures would be impacted.
As reported earlier, about 125,000 freight-rail workers could walk off the job if a deal isn’t reached by Friday’s deadline, with a strike potentially costing the world’s biggest economy more than $2 billion a day. The stoppage would be the largest of its kind since 1992, and it would snarl a wide range of goods transported by rail – from food to metal and auto parts – and threatens travel chaos for thousands of commuters, while sending inflation soaring even more.
The White House is considering an emergency decree to keep key goods flowing.
A Biden-appointed board last month issued a set of recommendations to resolve the dispute, including wage increases and better health coverage. But the proposal did not include terms on scheduling, attendance and other issues important to the two unions holding out for a deal, affiliates of the Teamsters Union and of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. Together, they represent about 60,000 employees.
A rail strike would be “potentially disastrous,” with “dire consequences that will cascade throughout the economy if a strike actually occurs,” Business Roundtable Chief Executive Officer Joshua Bolten told reporters. Supply-chain issues would be “geometrically magnified by the rail strike, and that’s not just the occasional Amazon box showing up two days later than it should — these are critical materials” such as chlorine to keep water clean that would be delayed, Bolten said.
According to Bloomberg, if all 7,000 long-distance freight trains available in the US stopped running, the country would need an extra 460,000 long-haul trucks daily to make up for the lost capacity, which isn’t possible because of equipment availability and driver shortages, American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said in a letter to Congress.
The trucking industry — dealing with labor issues of its own — faces a deficit of 80,000 drivers nationwide, he wrote.
Needless to say, a strike would send diesel prices exploding higher, and through substitution, gasoline would follow suit.
While a majority of 12 railroad unions involved in the dispute had reached or were close to achieving tentative agreements with freight carriers as of Monday, members of those unions also would refuse to work unless a deal is reached with the whole group, leaders said.
Ominously, the 4,900 members from District 19 under the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) voted against the Tentative Agreement with the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC). The union members gave leadership the green light to strike if necessary. IAM District 19 said it also agreed to an extension until Sept. 29 to allow negotiations to continue.
Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on Wednesday led negotiations between the unions and railroads, with talks continuing through lunch without a break, a Labor Department spokesperson said.
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