Railroads Continue to Prepare for Work Stoppage, Senators Introduce Bill to Impose Contract Terms

As railroads begin to embargo traffic ahead of a possible national railroad strike and/or lockout that could begin as early as Friday, legislation has been introduced in the Senate to settle the dispute.

Amtrak said it would suspend service on four long-distance routes in advance of a possible railroad work stoppage.

The Senate resolution would force railroad labor unions and railroads to accept the recommendations made last month by a presidential emergency board.

It was introduced by Sens. Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi).

Negotiations for a new contract have been ongoing for more than two years with unions representing locomotive engineers and train conductors at loggerheads with management over wages, benefits and work rules.

To date, eight of the 12 railroad labor unions have reached tentative contract agreements with the National Carriers Conference Committee, which represents railroad management in the negotiations.

Those agreements have been described in statements issued by the two sides as generally following the recommendations of the PEB.

The PEB issued its recommendations on Aug. 16 and under federal law strikes and/or lockouts are prohibited for 30 days following that. The 30-day cooling off period will expire at 12:01 a.m. on Friday.

Amtrak said it will suspend service today on the routes of the Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr and portions of the route of the Texas Eagle.

The latter involves the Los Angeles to San Antonio segment of the Texas Eagle route, which overlaps with the route of the Sunset Limited.

The passenger carrier said suspensions could expand to all routes outside the Northeast Corridor by the end of the week.

The Amtrak statement said suspensions being imposed today will ensure that the affected trains can reach their endpoint terminals before a strike and/or lockout begins.

Although neither Amtrak or its workers are parties to the railroad labor negotiations, the passenger carrier uses track owned by freight railroads where a strike and/or lockout may occur.

In the event of a strike and/or lockout, Amtrak said it would continue operating trains that wholly use track that it owns or is owned by public agencies.

This includes the Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington; the line between New Haven, Connecticut, and Springfield, Massachusetts; the Empire Corridor between New York and Albany-Rensselaer, New York; and the Keystone Corridor between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

An Amtrak statement said passengers affected by service suspensions due to the labor dispute will be contacted and offered the opportunity to change their travel dates or offered a full refund of their fare without any cancellation fees.

In a related developments, Class 1 railroads have begun embargoing certain types of shipments starting today.

Norfolk Southern told its shippers that it will stop accepting intermodal and automotive traffic.

The NS notice said it will close the gates for loaded or empty intermodal units at its terminals as of noon Tuesday and would also stop accepting traffic at on-dock port facilities and privately owned intermodal terminals.

The notice said the gates would remain open for intermodal pickup until further notice. Customers using railroad-operated EMP and TMX containers will be unable to make reservations after 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. They will be able to return empty containers to NS terminals as normal until further notice.

Automotive traffic gates will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with an embargo on auto traffic beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

The railroad also said it is planning “for the orderly lay down of trains in the bulk network” and will contact customers moving bulk commodities in unit trains with specific details.

CSX has also began on Monday an embargo of “high hazardous, toxic by inhalation and poisonous by inhalation” cargo.

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