Railway workers strike could cancel Amtrak Cascades trains, Sounder service starting Friday

Photo courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation

Updated with impacts of national rail strike on Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter train service.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) said Wednesday it is keeping a close eye on the ongoing freight rail labor contract negotiations and working with partners at the Oregon Department of Transportation and Amtrak about what a potential strike could means for the state’s Amtrak Cascades service.

Sound Transit said a strike would cancel Sounder commuter rail service as well.

“The negotiations do not involve Amtrak or the Amtrak workforce but still do affect train travel,” WSDOT said in a message on its blog. “While we are hopeful that parties will reach a resolution, Amtrak has now begun phased adjustments to its service in preparation for a possible freight rail service interruption later this week.”

The train tracks on which Amtrak Cascades trains run in Washington and Oregon are primarily owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, the blog post noted. “These railroad companies control all train movements in this region and therefore the potential strike of their workers will affect Amtrak Cascades trains. Our trains cannot operate without the BNSF and Union Pacific dispatchers.”

As a precautionary measure, WSDOT said, “Amtrak has secured buses for Thursday, Sept. 15, that will transport Amtrak Cascades passengers if necessary, ensuring train passengers are not stranded mid-trip. However, if a strike occurs, it will result in complete service disruptions starting on Friday, Sept. 16,  and there are no buses available this weekend to provide alternative transportation options. Ticketed customers are being notified of the potential situation and Amtrak is offering to change their reservation to another travel date, waive any difference in fare for departures through Oct. 31 or provide a full refund without cancellation fees.”

In addition, Amtrak has already suspended service on its two long-distance trains out of Portland and Seattle – the Empire Builder that travels to Chicago and the Coast Starlight that travels to Los Angeles. “These adjustments were necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached,” WSDOT said.

In the event of a national rail strike, Sounder commuter rail service between Everett-Seattle and Lakewood-Seattle would be canceled beginning Friday, Sept. 16 until workers return, Sound Transit said Wednesday. Sounder will operate regular service on Thursday, Sept. 15. 

Sounder trains are operated by unionized BNSF Railways employees under contract on tracks owned by BNSF, the agency said. Sounder trains are also dispatched by BNSF employees affected by a potential strike.  

Sound Transit is working with its partners to add additional bus service on existing ST Express routes that overlap with Sounder where possible.

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