WSDOT: Prepare for possible Amtrak cancellations on Sept. 16 as worker strike looms

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is warning those who commute by train that there could be cancellations for Amtrak Cascades services starting Friday, Sept. 16 due to a possible workers' strike. 

The tracks that Amtrak Cascades trains run on in Washington and Oregon are primarily owned by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific. While the strike negotiations do not involve Amtrak, it does involve BNSF Railway and Union Pacific.

"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," WSDOT said. 

As a precautionary measure, Amtrak said it has secured buses for Thursday, Sept. 15, that will transport Amtrak Cascades passengers if necessary, ensuring train passengers are not stranded mid-trip. Buses will not be available this weekend, should a strike occur, so travelers will need to find alternative options.

WSDOT said 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.

Additionally, 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 made to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached, WSDOT said. 

Railroads are trying to reach an agreement with all their other unions to avert a strike before Friday’s deadline. The unions aren’t allowed to strike before Friday under the federal law that governs railroad contract talks, which include BNSF, Union Pacific, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Kansas City Southern and the U.S. operations of Canadian National.

All the tentative deals are based closely on the recommendations of a Presidential Emergency Board Joe Biden appointed this summer that called for 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses in a five-year deal that’s retroactive to 2020. Those recommendations also includes one additional paid leave day a year and higher health insurance costs.

Government officials and a variety of businesses are bracing for the possibility of a nationwide rail strike that would paralyze shipments of everything from crude and clothing to cars, a potential calamity for businesses that have struggled for more than two years due to COVID-19 related supply chain breakdowns.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.