Suburban rail supports to end freight strike

Many passenger rail services operate on tracks owned by freight railroads. Without freight workers a hand in operating their networks, U.S. commuter rail passengers will be unable to make their journeys. Some passenger rail operators have already warned customers about service disruptions. Amtrak is most affected because it generally only runs routes between Boston and Washington, DC, but regional and local train services will also be affected.

Metra, which operates 11 commuter rail lines on the Chicago side, warned its customers in a statement Tuesday that a “potential walkout by freight rail workers” could “directly impact” its “ability to operate most services.”

“We want you to be aware of this issue so you can make alternative travel plans in the event of a service disruption,” Metra told customers.

Metra’s 11 rail lines carried an average of 36 million passengers annually from 2019 to 2021, but only two of those lines are wholly owned by Metra and would remain operational due to a freight strike, according to spokeswoman Meg Reile. He said Metra was talking with the railroads to see if an additional line could be active if Metra takes over the responsibilities of controlling traffic on the tracks, a duty currently held by a freight railroad.

“It’s all up in the air,” Reil said. “We still don’t have a clear answer.”

The San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, which operates the Altamont Commuter Express in California almost entirely on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks between Stockton and San Jose, expects to reduce service Thursday and suspend it entirely Friday.

“As you can imagine, we’re watching the situation very closely,” its chief marketing officer, David Lipari, told CNN Business.

The Maryland Transit Authority, which operates the MARC train on CSX tracks with about 250,000 riders a month in the Baltimore-Washington area, warned riders Monday afternoon that the Camden and Brunswick lines would be suspended until the potential strike was resolved. The agency’s commuter buses will honor MARC tickets during the service interruption. Its Penn line will remain active as the routes are owned by Amtrak.
Many parties are hopeful that the strike will be avoided. The White House has promoted the resolution. The freight railroads reached for comment declined to specify what steps passenger operators can take to continue service.

There are some exceptions for passenger trains that will not be affected by the strike.

Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Rail Road New York City’s Metro-North Railroad and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which carried about 146,000 passengers this month, do not expect any impact. It has its own staff that operates the trains and owns most of the tracks that the line operates on.

But others are not so well placed to strike.

BNSF freight railroad operates Sound Transit’s Sounder trains in Washington state. Sound Transit spokesman David Jackson said his agency is exploring options to help customers if there is no service.

BNSF said in an emailed statement that it will work with agencies to avoid disruptions and minimize impacts, but declined to provide details on how it is doing so.