Sound Transit, Amtrak narrowly dodge service interruption as rail unions reach deal

Sep 15, 2022, 2:56 PM

railway strike...

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

President Biden has announced that a tentative contract agreement has been reached among railroad workers threatening to strike and their employers.

The threat of a railway strike had commuters worried if they would be able to travel by train; businesses wondered how they would get important materials and products for sale; and economists speculated about the billions of dollars at stake.

After “20 hours of continuous negotiation,” a tentative agreement was met between the railroad companies and unions. The deal will increase pay and improve health care for workers.

In a statement published on the official White House website, Biden celebrated the agreement as an “important win for our economy and the American people.”

“It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what has kept us going during these difficult years,” Biden wrote.

“These rail workers will get better pay, improved working conditions, and peace of mind around their health care costs: all hard-earned. The agreement is also a victory for railway companies who will be able to retain and recruit more workers for an industry that will continue to be part of the backbone of the American economy for decades to come.”

If workers did go on strike, Robert Baker with the state’s Office of Financial Management says it could have cost Washington $ 50 million a day. Other services would also have been interrupted, including the Sounder commuter train running between Seattle and Lakewood, and the Amtrak Cascades line running to Portland.

Nationwide railway strike threatens economy, local commuting as soon as Friday

While Amtrak has said the negotiations don’t involve the company or its workforce, they do affect train travel because the train tracks used by Amtrak in Washington and Oregon are mainly owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. Amtrak’s trains cannot operate without the BNSF and Union Pacific dispatchers.

Janet Matkin, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Rail and Freight Communication Manager, spoke to KIRO Newsradio about the news that there would not be a strike, and how it would affect trains that were previously threatened.

“We actually are really pleased that the strike has been averted. All the trains are back on schedule, and running today.” Matkin said. “There were a lot of contingency plans already in progress, we were able to notify those customers who had received cancellation notices that, in fact, those trains will be running and giving them the opportunity to rebook their tickets if they had canceled previously.”

While, initially, there were plans for buses to be implemented to help transport people that might have been stranded by the strike, it is no longer “a risk for people traveling on Amtrak Cascades.”

Amtrak had already suspended the Empire Builder, which travels to Chicago, and the Coast Starlight, which travels to Los Angeles. The company said the suspensions were necessary to make sure trains can reach their terminals before freight service interruption in case a resolution was not reached. For those that had their long-distance train trips canceled out of precaution for the strike, service will restart Friday, Sept. 16.

“I just want to say thank you to all the passengers who understood that this was not an Amtrak issue, although we are passengers were affected by it,” Matkin said. “We look forward to the successful completion of the labor negotiations.”

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Sound Transit, Amtrak narrowly dodge service interruption as rail unions reach deal