Amtrak said it's canceling three long-distance trips starting on Tuesday amid a looming railway strike that could disrupt the U.S. economy, resulting in lost productivity of $2 billion a day.
The schedule changes come amid a potential railroad work stoppage due to a labor dispute between railroad companies and unionized workforces. If the two sides aren't able to come to an agreement this week, the stoppage could begin late Friday.
In a statement to CBS News, Amtrak said on Monday that while it's not involved in the ongoing negotiations between the two sides, an interruption would impact its passenger service because almost all of its routes outside the Northeast corridor operate on tracks maintained and dispatched by freight railroads.
The three routes canceled by Amtrak on run between Chicago and the West Coast along its Southwest Chief, California Zephyr and Empire Builder routes, according to travel site ThePointsGuy.
A strike could disrupt passenger service to "hundreds of thousands" of Americans, and also cause retail product shortages and manufacturing shutdowns, according to a September 8 statement from the Association of American Railroads.
"If you use Amtrak or Chicago's Metra, eat bread or corn, buy things from Amazon, or enjoy the idea of new homes being built, you should be worried about the impending rail strike," noted Rachel Premack, the editorial director of supply-chain market research company FreightWaves, in a tweet on Tuesday.
The strike would mark the first freight work stoppage since 1992, she added.
Amtrak said it's reaching out to customers with tickets on the canceled routes, and will allow them to change their reservation or to receive a full refund without cancellation fees. If a customer changes to another travel date, Amtrak said it will waive any difference in fares for departures through October 31.
Amtrak warned in its statement to CBS News that more disruptions could be in store this week if the rail industry negotiations falter. That's because the passenger train service would need to direct its trains into terminals ahead of the Friday strike, which could impact all its long-distance routes and most state-supported routes.
"These adjustments are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals prior to freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached," the passenger train company said in the statement.
However, Amtrak added that most Northeast corridor train service wouldn't be affected because it owns the tracks on the Boston-to-Washington route. Likewise, related branch lines to Albany, New York, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Massachusetts, also wouldn't be affected, the company said.
"Acela would operate a full schedule, and only a small number of Northeast Regional departures would be impacted," Amtrak said.
Strike: What's at stake?
Two unions — SMART and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET) — remain at odds with the railroads over attendance policies that workers claim are being used to fire and otherwise discipline railroad crews for absences that are due to medical appointments and bereavement.
The railroads dispute those claims, saying that workers often call in sick to enjoy long weekends, sporting events and concerts. They also claim their new points-based attendance policies are needed to maintain service for customers.
"Our members are being terminated for getting sick or for attending routine medical visits as we crawl our way out of a worldwide pandemic," SMART said Sunday in a statement. "No working-class American should be treated with this level of harassment in the workplace for simply becoming ill or going to a routine medical visit."
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