Bracing for trouble: Amtrak cancels all long distance trains in anticipation of strike

Source: Hot Air

Yesterday, our new writer Beege Wellborn pointed out that Amtrak was canceling some trains out of Chicago in advance of a possible rail strike. Today Amtrak announced it is canceling all long-distance trains as of tomorrow.

Amtrak canceled service on all of its long-distance routes beginning Thursday, most of which have a daily trip in each direction and provide cross-country connections for thousands of Americans. Between 24 and 28 daily trains will not operate while service is suspended.

“One can just hope that there is some resolution before Friday,” said Karen Finucan Clarkson, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Railway Express, which carries commuters from Northern Virginia suburbs into the nation’s capital. “We are truly hoping that we can run a service on Friday. That would be the best for the region.”

A strike would involve workers for the two private railroads that host VRE trains — CSX and Norfolk Southern — and result in the suspension of all service. Several commuter rail agencies and the vast majority of Amtrak routes operate on tracks owned by freight railroads whose workers are threatening to strike.

It’s not just long distance trains that use tracks owned by the freight companies. Some regional systems are also facing partial shutdowns starting Thursday night because they operate on tracks owned by the freight companies.

Metra, Chicago’s commuter rail network which operates on tracks owned by BNSF and Union Pacific, said Wednesday it will shut down trains after Thursday’s rush hour in preparation for a work stoppage. Trains will operate on Friday if a work stoppage does not occur…

MARC and VRE, which serve the Washington area, both said that trains which run on lines owned by CSX and Norfolk Southern will not run in the event of a work stoppage. Both of VRE’s rail lines into Virginia are operated by freight rail companies, while two of MARC’s three rail lines into Maryland would shut down…

Other commuter rail networks, including Caltrain in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California’s Metrolink, will face partial shut downs.

In other words, a potential freight company strike this Friday won’t just lead to empty store shelves, it’s also going to create a mess for a lot of rail commuters in our major cities.

So how are the negotiations to avoid a strike going? According to a story published today by CNN, things aren’t looking good:

While two more rail unions reached tentative agreements with railroad management on new contracts Tuesday, the two most important unions — representing the engineers and conductors who make up the two-person crews on each train — remain at loggerheads in negotiations. If they don’t resolve their differences, the first national rail strike in 30 years could start early Friday.

Those engineers and conductors unions represent roughly half of the more than 100,000 unionized workers at the nation’s major freight railroads.

The NY Times reports on the tone coming from the from the unions.

Over the previous decade, the five largest railroads had spent $114 billion to buy back their shares — a course of action intended to boost stock prices — rather than using that money to bolster their routes, said Mr. Oberman, who was appointed by President Biden.

In the unions’ telling, the railroads are now exploiting the crisis they created — a crucial lack of capacity — to fan fears of disruption in seeking leverage toward denying their workers fair compensation.

“The railroads are using shippers, consumers, and the supply chain of our nation as pawns in an effort to get our unions to cave into their contract demands,” said two leading unions, the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Teamsters Rail Conference, in a joint statement last week. “Congress must not cave in to what can only be described as corporate terrorism.”

The statement is referring to the fact that Congress has the power to intervene but with Democrats in control that’s almost certainly not going to happen.

Unless the two sides reach an agreement, only Congressional action can prevent or end a strike. Richard Durbin, the second highest ranking member of the Democrats’ leadership in the Senate, told CNN that Democrats are not eager to take action ahead of the deadline to prevent a strike.

“I don’t think it’s likely we will intervene,” Durbin said. Avoiding a strike “depends on the parties in negotiations stepping up to the plate.”

That’s a testament to how much power unions have over Democrats, because this could be a real disaster for their party. If the strike does happen, here’s what consumers are likely to see:

  • Gasoline: Without freight railroads, oil refineries would have trouble producing their current volumes of gasoline, which could send gas prices higher, ending a string of three months of falling prices at the pump.
  • Food: It could disrupt the nation’s food supplies, preventing recently harvested crops to move to food processors and disrupting the supply of fertilizer needed for upcoming plantings.
  • Consumer goods: According to the National Retail Federation, Any rail strike could have long-lasting negative effects on the import of goods for the holiday shopping season, causing shortages and higher prices.
  • Cars and trucks: Car prices have already hit record prices this year due to the limited supply of new vehicles caused by a shortage of computer chips and other parts. A rail strike would further choke supplies, cutting off the delivery of auto parts to auto assembly plants, which could force temporary shutdowns at some plants. It would also disrupt the flow of completed new cars and trucks, 75% of which move by rail.

Imagine a registered voter who stops for gas on the way home in early November only to find that back over $5 a gallon. And then the same voter pops into the grocery store to pick up some items for dinner and the shelves are half empty and the items that are available are more expensive than ever. I don’t see that voter enthusiastically pulling the lever for Democrats. The White House must be aware of that.