As Metra and Amtrak brace for a possible strike by freight railroad workers this week, both railroads have announced cancellations on several popular Chicago-area routes as they go through shutdowns that could impact on thousands of area commuters on railroads and elsewhere.
Potential disruptions pose the biggest threat to stable rail service in more than three decades.
Here’s what you need to know about what could happen this week:
Which Metra train lines will be affected?
Metra announced on Wednesday that trains on at least four of its main rail lines would be canceled from Thursday evening. In addition to this, the company noted that in the event of a strike, there will be no Friday service on the same lines, which are owned and operated by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.
The lines affected are Metra’s BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific West and Union Pacific Northwest.
“BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad, which own and operate the lines, have announced that they will begin reducing service after the evening rush hour on Thursday September 15 in preparation for the potential work stoppage” , Metra said in a statement. riders.
On Wednesday, the railroad agency said it plans to operate trains on the Metra Electric, Rock Island, SouthWest Service, Milwaukee District North and Milwaukee District West lines. However, it remains unclear whether the trains will run on the Heritage Corridor or North Central Service lines.
According to a statement from Metra, the following BNSF trains will not run on Thursday evening September 15:
Inbound trains 1296, 1298, 1300, and 1302 are canceled (all depart Aurora after 8 p.m.)
Outgoing trains 1289, 1291 1293 and 1295 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
The following Union Pacific trains will not run Thursday evening, September 15:
Inbound trains 372 and 374 are canceled (all depart Waukegan after 10 p.m.)
Outgoing trains 371, 373, 375 and 377 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
The following Union Pacific Northwest trains will not run Thursday evening, September 15:
Incoming trains 666 and 668 are canceled (all depart after 9:30 p.m.)
Outbound trains 661,663,665 and 601 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
The following Union Pacific West trains will not run on Thursday evening, September 15:
Inbound train 68 is canceled (leaving Elburn after 9:15 p.m.)
Outbound trains 69 and 71 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.)
What about Amtrak?
Amtrak already decided on Monday to preemptively cancel three long-distance train routes from Chicago, a move the train operator said would “avoid potential passenger disruption” due to the impending strike.
According to Amtrak, the affected routes are the California Zephyr, the Empire Builder and the Southwest Chief.
Are Metra and Amtrak workers part of the strike?
Although Metra is not part of the labor dispute, the rail operator said in a statement to NBC 5 on Tuesday that a strike by railway workers “could have a direct impact on Metra’s ability to operate on certain lines”, since the majority of Metra’s lines run on tracks that are either owned, maintained or shipped by, or intersect with freight railroads.
Amtrak is also not part of the dispute, but the train operator said in a statement that a strike by railway workers “could significant impact” on its passenger service since it operates nearly all of its 21,000 miles of route on tracks owned, maintained and shipped by freight railways.
What is the strike and how are things going?
The railroads have reached tentative agreements with most of their unions, including a ninth agreement announced on Tuesday, based on recommendations from an emergency presidential council appointed this summer by Joe Biden, who called for increases of 24% and $5,000 in premiums in a five-year deal that’s retroactive to 2020. The deal also includes an additional paid day off per year and higher health insurance costs.
But the 12 railway unions must agree to prevent a strike. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union, which represents engineers, and the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, which represents conductors, want the railways to respond to some of their concerns about unpredictable work schedules and strict attendance. rules in addition to agreeing to recommended wage increases.
Ron Kaminkow, general secretary of the Railroad Workers United labor coalition, which includes workers from various railroad unions, said he doesn’t think the unions are demanding much at this stage – exactly the sort of thing most American workers already value the ability to take time off without being penalized.
“We have attendance policies that have become increasingly draconian. This provides very, very little wiggle room for workers who need time off for doctor’s appointments, to spend time with family, to rest,” Kaminkow said.
What else could be affected by the strike?
The railroads have already begun to cut shipments of hazardous materials and have announced plans to stop transporting refrigerated goods before Friday’s strike deadline. Now companies that depend on Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and other railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished goods have started planning for the worst.
Meanwhile, Biden administration officials are scrambling to craft a plan to use trucks, ships and planes to try to keep the most crucial chemicals and other goods moving if the railroads stop rolling. But the White House is also keeping pressure on the two sides to settle their differences, and a growing number of business groups are pressuring Congress to be prepared to step in and block a strike if they fail. to an agreement.
“We have made it clear to interested parties the harm that American families, businesses, farmers and communities will suffer if they do not reach a resolution,” White House press secretary Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday. Rock. She said a stoppage is “not acceptable”.
From Monday, all major railways suspended shipments of hazardous materials to ensure that these dangerous chemicals would not be blocked along the tracks in the event of a strike. Norfolk Southern has told customers it will also stop accepting shipments of intermodal containers full of freight from Wednesday evening as it prepares for “a controlled network shutdown”.
Some companies would probably be more affected than others by a rail shutdown. For example, almost all ethanol and coal and most grain is transported by rail.
In addition to businesses, traffic on the roads will likely also see backups as riders begin to find other modes of transportation.
“In Chicago, we’re especially vulnerable to this stuff,” Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University, told NBC 5.
Schwieterman adds that the strike comes at a very bad time.
“Our supply chains are stretched, we have tough logistical issues, our highways are really clogged up,” he said.