October 3, 2022

The impending US railroad strike could cost the nation $2 billion a day and spark chaos for hundreds of thousands of travelers as regional agencies plan for stoppages while Amtrak cancels all long-distance trains. 

Railroads in Chicago, South California, and Virginia are preparing for service stoppages as early as Thursday evening ahead of the midnight shutdown on Friday spurred by a planned freight workers’ strike. 

It comes after Amtrak, the nation’s cross-country railway system, canceled all planned trips, including those from Washington DC to Sanford, Florida, and the Silver Star from New York City to Miami.

The company had previously said it was canceling several of its routes as two labor unions representing 60,000 engineers and conductors threatened to walk out of their jobs on Friday if their demands for safer working conditions are not met. 

Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), said it was imperative that a deal be reached by Friday to avoid the disruption to the thousands who depend on the nation’s railway system. 

‘We are truly hoping that we can run a service on Friday,’ she told the Washington Post. ‘That would be the best for the region.’

Amtrak, the nation’s cross-country railway system, canceled all planned trips, including those from Washington DC to Sanford, Florida, and the Silver Star from New York City to Miami. It comes as an impending strike is predicted to affect hundreds of thousands of travelers

Metrolink, which services the Southern California area, warned that disruptions were expected due to the strike. About 70 percent of its customers could be affected

Metra, which services Chicago, issued a similar warning ahead of Friday’s deadline

After one of the 10 other labor groups that had already reached a tentative deal with the rail companies voted Wednesday to reject the offer, Amtrak officials announced it was now canceling all of its long-distance trains — issuing a serious blow to commuters and travelers.

As of Wednesday, the passenger rail agency suspended service on three cross-country routes out of Chicago, going to San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, and Los Angeles, Amtrak said in a statement Monday evening.

Service would also be disrupted for a route along a portion of one of those routes, the company said at the time – between Los Angeles and San Antonio.

Amtrack added that a walkout would ‘significantly impact’ the more than 21,000 route miles it operates outside the Northeast.

Chicago’s Metra service and Southern California’s Metrolink have been encouraging passengers to seek other modes of transportation as they predicted service disruptions would begin on Thursday night. 

‘We are coordinating with our rail partners to provide as much alternative service as possible, but there may be complete service cancellations on some lines,’ Metrolink said in a service update.

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Chicago’s stoppage would see four lines affected, while Metrolink would see five of its seven lines downed, affecting as many as 70 percent of customers. 

In Virginia, the stoppage of the VRE’s service would affect about 10,000 daily commuters.

If there is a rail strike, it means for those Blue and Yellow line riders as well as VRE riders, there will be no rail service as an option into the District,’ Clarkson told the Post. 

Many took to social media to post about their regrets in purchasing Amtrak tickets 

Some Amtrak customers are already scrambling to try and get refunds as they pray for the unions and companies to reach a conclusion quickly to restore services.  

One Twitter user with the name Max bemoaned the fact that he got a nonrefundable ticket, but he still said he supported the workers’ right to strike.  

‘Guys i just booked a nonrefundable ticket for amtrak on october 4 without thinking about the upcoming rail strike so i really hope that gets resolved quickly (with a win for the workers obviously! solidarity forever),’ he wrote. 

Another Twitter user with the handle Hopesterrr seemed less optimistic, writing: ‘refreshing my emails like a madwoman to see if amtrak has refunded my ticket.’ 

Corey Jacob, another Twitter user, mused that his decision to buy a one-way ticket would leave him stranded in Washington D.C. 

‘Going to DC on a one way ticket tomorrow and with all of this Amtrak mess who knows if I’ll ever get to come back,’ he joked.  

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers announced on Wednesday that its 4,900 members voted to reject a deal its leaders reached with freight railroad companies

Two other unions, representing 60,000 engineers and conductors, that are set to go on strike Friday as the Biden administration scrambles to reach a deal in a desperate attempt to prevent economic turmoil leading up to the midterm elections

The move to cancel all of its trips comes as President Joe Biden struggles to prevent a shutdown of the freight train system.

He previously blocked a potential strike through executive action back in July — but that only delayed the possibility of a strike for 60 days. It is now set to expire on Friday at 12.01am.

At the same time, he appointed a Presidential Emergency Board, which came up with recommendations for a deal that has been accepted by nine of 12 unions. Those groups have reached tentative deals with the railroads that will see them earn 24 percent raises over five years, $5,000 in bonuses, and one extra vacation day a year.

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That deal, though, did not satisfy the two holdouts – The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division, who say they are not interested in raises but rather safer working conditions.

Leaders of those two unions remained in negotiations with the railroad management companies on Wednesday as they demand more quality-of-life provisions be put into their contracts for the coming year, covering attendance policies, vacation, and sick days.

They say working conditions and scheduling issues are driving their members to quit in droves, leaving the railroads with a staffing shortage that those who are left have to fill. 

The unions have already reduced what they are asking for, including eliminating their demand for paid sick days, according to the Washington Post, and say that if their demands are not met by Friday, they will strike to improve employees’ quality of life.

Making matters worse, one of the groups that had accepted a tentative deal with the railroad management companies announced on Wednesday that it was pulling out of the deal.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said its 4,900 members had voted to reject a deal its leaders reached with the U.S. freight railroads in an effort to keep the system running. 

It is now extending its negotiation process to September 29.

Experts say a freight trains strike would prevent recently harvested crops from moving to food processors, as well as disrupt the supply of fertilizer to grow new crops

It would also send gas prices soaring as oil refineries would have trouble producing their current volumes of gas

Experts say a strike would hamper the country’s already entangled supply chain and send inflation soaring once again. 

Oil refineries would have trouble producing their current volumes of gas without the freight railroads, CNN reports, and would prevent recently harvested crops from moving to food processors, as well as disrupt the supply of fertilizer to grow new crops.

Additionally, according to the National Retail Federation, any rail strike could have long-lasting negative effects on the import of goods for the holiday season, causing shortages and higher prices.

And a potential rail strike would choke off supplies of already scarce computer chips and other car parts, cutting off the delivery to auto assembly plants, which could force temporary shutdowns at some of America’s auto plants.

It would also disrupt the flow of completed new cars and trucks to dealers throughout the country, 75 percent of which move by rail.

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In total, the Association of American Railroads has estimated that a rail strike could cost the United States an estimated $2 billion per day in economic output — a figure that has also been cited by the Department of Transportation.

‘The cost will grow geometrically the longer the strike lasts,’ said Patrick Anderson, of Anderson Economic Group. ‘After a week, you’d see real damage in the US economy.’

‘If we reach a week-long strike, we’re in uncharted territory,’ he added. 

President Joe Biden is scrambling to get the workers to reach an agreement with the freight companies in an effort to prevent potential economic turmoil ahead of the midterm elections. He is pictured here touring the Detroit Auto Show on Wednesday

Now, the self-proclaimed ‘pro-union’ president is scrambling to get the workers to reach an agreement with the freight companies in an effort to prevent potential economic turmoil ahead of the midterm elections as he meets with union leaders across the country.

The heads of those unions were set to meet with Labor Secretary Martin Walsh in Washington early on Wednesday, and the president personally called rail unions and companies on Monday in an attempt to avert a shut-down, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

‘The White House is working with other modes of transportation (including shippers, truckers, air freight) to see how they can step in and keep goods moving, in case of a rail shutdown,’ an unnamed White House official told CNN.

But the American Trucking Association has issued a statement saying it would require more than 460,000 additional long-haul trucks every day to meet the demand left by the freight trains, which, it says is ‘not possible based on equipment availability and an existing shortage of 80,000 drivers.’

It instead called on Congress to act to keep railroad workers on the job, saying that the trucking industry depends on sharing shipments with the railroads.

Congressional Republicans have since said they are planning to introduce legislation that would impose a contract on the engineers’ and conductors’ unions that would force them to stay on the job.

‘A rail worker strike would be catastrophic for America’s transportation system and our already-stressed supply chain,’ said Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who plans to introduce the bill with Sen. Roger Wicker, of Mississippi.

He said the PEB recommendations, which form the basis of the contract his legislation would impose ‘are a fair and appropriate solution to a years-long negotiation process, but labor unions are continuing to hold the entire nation’s rail system hostage as they demand more.’