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Amtrak Halts Long-Distance Service Over Freight Rail Labor Dispute

Amtrak said Wednesday it was canceling all long-distance passenger trains, effective Thursday, due to a possible work stoppage on freight railroads whose tracks Amtrak uses.

The announcement was made as the rail freight industry and two key unions remained at an impasse during contract negotiations. A federally mandated 30-day “cooling off” period ends Friday at 12:01 a.m., opening a door to strikes and lockouts. Amtrak said the negotiations do not involve its employees.

Amtrak noted that outside of the Northeast Corridor, which connects Boston, New York, and Washington, most of its service runs on “track owned, maintained, and shipped by freight railroads.” As a result, only trains that could reach their final destination before Friday’s deadline were left running.

It said most travel in the Northeast Corridor and on related branch lines to Albany, NY; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Springfield, Mass., would not be affected as those rails are operated by Amtrak.

What Amtrak called “phased adjustments” to its schedule began Tuesday with service interruptions on some of its longest routes, including the Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago, and the California Zephyr between Chicago and San Francisco.

Amtrak said passengers can change their reservation to a different travel date, with some difference in fare excluding departure until October 31or may receive a full refund with no cancellation fees.

Biden government officials are pushing for an agreement between the freight rail industry and its unions to avoid a work stoppage. An emergency council appointed by the White House to help mediate the dispute recommended a contract resolution in August, but the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the SMART Transportation Division, which represent engineers and conductors, are sticking to improvements in the working conditions.

Those unions represent nearly half of the 115,000 workers covered by the negotiations.

In addition, the approximately 4,900 members of District 19 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers rejected the contract proposal on Wednesday after union leaders agreed to the emergency council’s recommendation.