Train lines preparing for rail strike that could cost billions per day

(NewsNation) — Metra is canceling service on several Chicago-area commuter train lines beginning Thursday night in preparation for a potential strike Friday, according to a report from WMAQ-TV, an NBC Chicago affiliate.

The news comes after one of the major unions — the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), representing 5,000 workers — voted to reject a tentative contract agreement with railroads and authorize a strike ahead of Friday’s looming strike deadline.

The four Chicago-area train lines affected thus far include BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific West and Union Pacific Northwest, representing thousands of Chicago-area commuters traveling to and from the suburbs and city.

The pressure is mounting as unions representing railroad workers have been stuck in contract disputes for nearly three years.

While the proposed strike hasn’t happened, some of the rippling effects can already be felt. Workers such as train conductors and engineers are arguing for better pay and better hours.

“Quality of life is absolutely the sticking point,” Paul Lindsey, a locomotive engineer for Union Pacific, said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Wednesday.

Lindsey said employee cutbacks in recent years have made taking time off from the job nearly impossible.

“Of the people that are left, they’ve put this oppressive attendance policy on them to where you can’t get a day off for anything. You can’t get a day off to go to the dentist, take your kid to the doctor for anything anymore,” he said.

Railroads and the 12 unions across the U.S. have until Friday to reach an agreement and avoid a strike.

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Train tracks stretch 140,000 miles from coast to coast, with roughly 30% of the nation’s freight traveling by rail each year. A worker strike could cause serious supply chain issues and affect the movement of consumer staples such as food, gas, and car supplies.

“It would have pretty marked effect on what we can buy and what is available in stores,” said Rachel Premack, an editorial director at Freight Waves.

Some passengers are already feeling the impact, with Amtrak cancelling several of its major routes, including Chicago to the West Coast.

“Things like this make me question and reevaluate and think of a plan B, just in case,” on traveler said to NewsNation.

In a statement to NewsNation, Amtrak said it is aware of the current situation and has begun “making adjustments.”

Amtrak is closely monitoring ongoing freight rail management-labor contract negotiations. While these negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce, many of our trains operate over freight railroad tracks. Because the parties have not yet reached a resolution, Amtrak has begun to make initial service adjustments in response to a possible freight railroad service interruption that could occur later this week. If your train is canceled, we will attempt to notify you at least 24 hours in advance at the contact information you provided when making a reservation — as well as offer the opportunity to receive a full refund.

Amtrak to Newsnation

Amtrak said only minimal changes are expected to its Northeast regional services.

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If the strike were to happen, it would also be expensive: A report from the Association of American Railroads (AAR) found that a nationwide rail service interruption would cost more than $2 billion per day.