Amtrak suspends all Florida trains as rail worker strike continues to grow

Amtrak Empire Builder overnight passenger train from Chicago to Seattle passes through Index Washington – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Ian Dewar Photography

Train companies located around the United States are bracing for an upcoming freight rail worker strike on Friday, and Amtrak is taking matters into its own hands by suspending long-distance train services throughout the Sunshine State because of it.

Amtrak confirmed to Orlando TV station WKMG that it would halt all long-distance trains that operate throughout Florida beginning on Wednesday, with all services stopped by Thursday.

This includes the Amtrak Auto Train, which runs through Sanford and Lorton, Virginia, and the Silver Star Train, which treks from Miami to New York. Outside of Florida, routes such as the California Zephyr, Empire Builder, and Southwest Chief would also be affected. 

“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.”

Amtrak has remained firm on its statement that freight rail labor negotiations do not affect Amtrak or its workforce whatsoever. However, nearly all of Amtrak’s services located outside of the northeastern states are run on tracks that are maintained and owned by freight railroads.

“These adjustments are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached,” an Amtrak spokesperson said in a statement.

Since 2019, the freight railroad businesses have been in talks with a dozen different unions, but the pandemic has stalled those negotiations.

Two sizable unions that represent engineers and train conductors are negotiating improved conditions, although many of the unions have struck tentative deals.

The administration has made efforts to come to agreements, and President Biden formed a special board to offer suggestions. On Wednesday, the Biden administration increased the pressure on the two sides to reach a settlement. 

Biden administration officials are scurrying to develop a plan to use ships, trucks, and planes to keep the most important goods and chemicals moving if the railroads stop rolling.

The Association of American Railroads estimates that a shutdown could cost the American economy over $2 billion a day and “could idle more than 7,000 trains daily and trigger retail product shortages, widespread manufacturing shutdowns, job losses and disruptions to hundreds of thousands of passenger rail customers.”

If nothing occurs, the workers will begin their strike on Friday morning, just after midnight.

DePaul University Professor, Joe Schwieterman, believes the strike comes at a horrible time.

“Supply chains are stretched, difficult logistic problems and highways are really clogged up,” he said.

On Wednesday, major regional train systems continued to encourage passengers to plan alternate travel routes for later this week.

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