(The Hill) — Amtrak will cancel all long-distance trains beginning on Thursday to avoid disruptions in advance of a potential rail worker strike later this week. An Amtrak spokesperson said the changes will ensure trains can reach their destinations before the strike, which could begin as early as Friday, and the adjustments could soon extend to other routes.
Amtrak is not involved in the contract negotiations between rail workers and freight companies, but many of its trains run on railroads owned by third parties that would shut down if a strike takes place.
“While we are hopeful that parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun phased adjustments to our service in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption later this week,” the spokesperson said. “Such an interruption could significantly impact intercity passenger rail service.”
More than 115,000 rail workers are legally allowed to strike as of Friday, a deadline that has attracted a great deal of attention in Washington as lawmakers fear price gains and supply chain bottlenecks from the potential shutdown, which would add to already high inflation rates.
The new suspensions, which begin on Thursday, include Amtrak’s Auto Train service, which runs between Lorton, Va. and Sanford, Fla., and its Capitol Limited service, which runs between Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Amtrak said it will also suspend its Cardinal service, which runs between New York City and Chicago, and its Palmetto service between D.C. and Savannah, Ga.
Palmetto trains north of D.C., which use Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, have not been suspended.
Amtrak owns that rail line, which runs between Boston and D.C., so the company says “only a small number” of departures on the line as well as branches to Albany, N.Y., Harrisburg, Pa., and Springfield, Ma., will be affected.
The rail service said it will offer customers the ability to either change their travel to another date or receive a full refund.
Amtrak began suspending some of its longest routes on Tuesday and has since added additional cancellations, with 14 total routes now suspended as of Thursday.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) on Wednesday became the first union to authorize a strike, with its nearly 5,000 workers rejecting a contract based on a White House-appointed board’s recommendations last month.
The contract proposal would implement 24 percent raises and back pay, but workers are demanding more predictable scheduling and the ability to take time off for doctors’ appointments without being penalized.
Fearing the potential economic fallout of a walkout, lawmakers are preparing to use congressional authority to block a strike.
Some GOP senators have backed a bill that would approve the proposed contract, which is supported by railroads and business interests, and Democratic leaders have suggested they will intervene if no agreement is reached.
“All parties need to stay at the table, bargain in good faith to resolve outstanding issues, and come to an agreement,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday. “A shutdown of our freight rail system is an unacceptable outcome for our economy and the American people, and all parties must work to avoid just that.”