Amtrak is working to restore long-distance rail service following a tentative deal to avoid a threatened freight rail strike.
The company canceled service on many of its cross-country trains earlier this week and was planning to suspend all service Thursday.
In a statement from Amtrak, company spokeswoman Olivia Irwin said, “Amtrak is working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures.”
The shutdown, which affected routes like the Southwest Chief connecting Chicago to Los Angeles, began on Tuesday. It had expanded to include 15 long-distance routes as the Friday strike deadline grew closer.
Affected passengers can go to Amtrak.com, or call Amtrak customer service at 800-872-7245, although both are seeing high volume because of the disruption.
Service was never threatened along the popular Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington.
While Amtrak wasn’t involved in the labor dispute, most of its 21,000 miles of rail lines are operated by freight rail companies. If those employees went on strike, passengers could have been stranded in the middle of their trip.
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“The negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce,” the company said in a statement. But because of the threatened strike, the national rail passenger company began canceling trains “in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption.”
Canceled trains included interstate routes like the Auto Train from Virginia to Florida; the City of New Orleans route from Chicago to New Orleans; and the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.
Rail service continued in the Northeast because Amtrak owns the rail lines there. Its high-speed Acela trains continued operating on a full schedule between Boston and Washington, the company said.
The planned strike also threatened to disrupt commuter rail service in major cities, including on Los Angeles’s Metrolink; Chicago’s Metra; and the Virginia Railway Express serving Washington, D.C. Other regional state-sponsored Amtrak lines, like the Pacific Surfliner in Southern California, also anticipated curtailing service.
Amtrak cancellations had already affected passengers, who have had to scramble to make other transportation plans.
However, suspending long-distance service was the correct move, says Jim Mathews, president of the Rail Passenger Association, in a statement. “There is simply no way to disentangle the passenger and freight operations."
But he urged the national rail company to treat passengers fairly. “While these circumstances are outside of Amtrak's control, we're asking them to ensure that passengers whose travel is disrupted are reimbursed, and that they receive relevant information in a timely fashion.”
Virginia native Larry Bleiberg is president of the Society of American Travel Writers, a frequent contributor to BBC Travel and the creator of CivilRightsTravel.com.