Amtrak Workers May Strike In Early 2008

If you’re a frequent Amtrak travel, you might want to plan ahead for a half-week of telecommuting sometime in early February—Kiplinger says Amtrak workers may strike as early as February 1st, in an attempt to bring a conclusion to the negotiations that have been going on for nearly eight years.

Congress will likely put an end to the strike in less than a week because of how crucial Amtrak and its employees are to the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

The disruptions in service would affect some commuter rail and freight lines, as well as Amtrak’s passengers — about 25 million a year. Many commuter rail lines use Amtrak-owned track between Washington, D.C. and Boston, and many use Amtrak employees to operate trains. Chicago’s busy Union Station, for example, would be shut down by a strike because it depends on Amtrak workers. Some freight that travels on Amtrak-owned track on the East Coast would also be stopped if Amtrak employees go on strike.

“A Post-Holiday Amtrak Strike Looms” [Kiplinger]
(Photo: reivax)

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  1. monolithic says:

    If they were smart they’d go on strike 2 weeks before Christmas and New Years.

  2. DallasDMD says:

    @monolithic: Yeah, way to piss off the general public there.

  3. Wyrenth says:

    If they’re so crucial, then give Amtrak workers what they want instead of jerking them around and kicking them into the dirt. ;P

  4. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    How would anyone tell if it were shutdown?
    The Republitards in Congress have forced it to almost bankruptcy anyway.

  5. Major-General says:

    Somehow I don’t think that Amtrak really will do so. After all, it seems kind of pointless after eight years to say that now we’re going to strike.

    About 90% of the country doesn’t even remember that Amtrak exists.

  6. twiddling_my_thumbs says:

    If Amtrak holds true, it will be late on any timetables it sets.

  7. BigNutty says:

    What’s Amtrak?

  8. trollkiller says:

    @BigNutty: Amtrak is a silver train that blocks my road when I am running late for work.. damn govment

  9. badgeman46 says:

    How is that legal? Isn’t Amtrak an entity of the Federal Government? As a Fed myself, it would be illegal for me to stike.

  10. lemur says:

    @Major-General: There may have been legal impediments that prevented them to strike earlier. Unfortunately, the Kiplinger article says nothing about that.

    Hmm… I took a quick look at what the Wikipedia has to say about strikes and found that there are legal restrictions to them going on strike:

    [en.wikipedia.org]

    There’s also the fact that Amtrak operates through several states so to go on strike the Union must satisfy the legal criteria imposed by the federal government and those states. If the Union declared its intent and some states or the feds responded with legal action, it can take several years for the legal process to come to an end.

  11. PeteyNice says:

    This would be bad news. It means no trains would run into NJ from NYC (either Amtrak or NJ Transit) and NJ Transit trains on the Trenton line would not run at all. I am not sure how it would affect Boston, DC and Philly commuter trains but I am guessing that they would have problems too.

  12. HeyThereKiller says:

    @lemur: wasn’t it also illegal for the MTA to go on strike?

    Much good that did.

  13. Galls says:

    @BigNutty:

    Amtrak is a great form of public transportation that reduces pollution and congestion caused by idiots like Trollkiller in his giant SUV.

    Took it yesterday from Little Rock to NY and it was much better traveling than a plane or a car.

    Amtrak is a corporation whose stock is owned by freight rail and government. It is subs less than the airline industry so the employees besides tips do not get paid very well.

  14. JKinNYC says:

    @PeteyNice: Have fun on the turnpike.

  15. lemur says:

    @HeyThereKiller: I fail to see the point you’re trying to make. You could start by saying which MTA exactly you are talking about and which strike precisely you are talking about. The fact that the employees one public transportation system somewhere were able to go on strike does not prove that the Amtrak employees had no legal hurdle to face.

  16. Beerad says:

    I think the government and public should strike AGAINST Amtrak and refuse to patronize them until their service stops completely sucking. European transit workers strike as a national hobby, but the difference is the rail service over there is affordable, reliable, and pleasant to use.

    While I’m all for developing inter-city mass transit in this country, Amtrak has consistently failed to meet minimal standards of customer service. Inexplicable delays on nearly every trip over 2 hours, ridiculous prices, and extra helpings of surly with every customer interaction? No thanks.

  17. smoothtom says:

    @Beerad: Amtrak doesn’t even know if it will be funded year to year. It’s pretty tough to plan important capital improvements if your existence is constantly uncertain. Also, Amtrak must run on privately-owned freight railroads in a regulatory environment that does not given passenger traffic a priority. So, when CSX or Union Pacific has lots of freight in the way, Amtrak can’t get through. And it doesn’t help that so much rail capacity was removed in the 1980s. Here in Ohio, the old PRR and Erie routes from New York to Chicago were yanked out, so there are fewer rails connecting to Chicago–despite increased freight traffic. Such genius planning …

  18. ARP says:

    It’s a bit of a cycle. Nobody takes Amtrak because they s*ck, so they don’t have any money to improve reliability, customer service etc.

    Since they’re quasi government, the employees aren’t paid well, so many have the stereotypical “civil servant” attitude some of us encounter at the DMV, post office, goverment buildings, etc.

    One of the few possible opportunities to improve/survive would be high-speed rail. The problem is that our litigious society could never let that happen because it would require people to take some person responsibility and look for trains, obey signals, etc.

  19. Canadian Impostor says:

    The problem with Amtrak is that it’s cheaper to fly.

    If Amtrak were half the cost of flying I’d never fly anywhere. The train is way nicer than flying. You get more room, less obnoxious TSA jerks, and it’s just a relaxed way to travel. Unfortunately it’s also slower than flying, so if cost is the same I put up with the hassle of flying to save myself time.

    Boston to NYC is faster and the same price taking the Acela over flying. The Acela is tons of fun.

  20. Beerad says:

    @smoothtom: I’m willing to give Amtrak some credit for things beyond their control, but unless there’s a regulatory mandate for snarly ticket agents… Also, when the (already improbably long) 12-hour train from New York to Cleveland is delayed by 5 hours, what’s the point of even trying to rely on them?

  21. 4ster says:

    I’m not sure anyone would know the difference if they went on strike. The last time I rode Amtrak, I arrived an hour late.

    And the trip itself was only supposed to take 30 minutes.

  22. jamar0303 says:

    I’d use Amtrak a lot more if they implemented super-express (170mph+) service, like that found in Japan. LA-San Diego shouldn’t take 2 hours.

  23. badgeman46 says:

    Why is Amtrak still in business? They are way overpriced, I could fly to Europe or Australia way cheaper than taking the train from Florida to Massachusetts. Overpriced transport on outmoded transportation from the 1800s. Goodbye Amtrak.

  24. spinachdip says:

    @badgeman46: I think long distance train travel is outmoded as you say. Beyond sentimental values, there isn’t much point in transcontinental rail, which Florida to Massachusetts is.

    But train travel still holds, or at least should hold, an advantage in intra-regional travel, and the Boston-NYC-DC corridor is the perfect example. Amtrak could really be effective if they concentrated their resources on a few key areas, like, for example, Chicago-St. Louis, Atlanta-Charlotte, or SF-LA-SD. Dedicated passenger tracks in those areas would do wonders.

    On routes where flights take less than a couple of hours, rail makes up for the speed deficit by going downtown-to-downtown.

  25. AD8BC says:

    Ah, the train. I love the train. I fly a lot… but if I had my druthers, I’d take the train more. Unfortunately, because of time and schedule constraints, or because the train simply doesn’t go where I am going, I usually can’t.

    Being a conservative, I don’t think that the government should funnel money into Amtrak. But, when that finally (rightfully) happens, I will miss it.

    Regarding the strike, I think it’s time for a good ol’ fashioned union bust! The time for unions is simply over. Look what they did to Michigan’s economy.

  26. barty says:

    Amtrak needs to get out of the long haul train business period. The freight railroads don’t want them there (not for the paltry amount of money they are paid) and apart from leisure travelers, aren’t reliable or cost effective enough to warrant keeping the routes in place.

    I’m glad the Republicans have squeezed Amtrak the way they have. It has made alot of people stop and look at the folly of continuing long-haul passenger rail in this country. Now if they had just done the same with the rest of the government while they were in power, they would have been onto something…and probably wouldn’t have pissed off voters such as myself.

  27. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    I think the biggest thing reason I have never rode Amtrak was due to the wacky routes. I used to live in Wichita Ks. I was going to ride Amtrak to Houston Tx. A simple 8 hour drive , when I put my info into thier system the route was crazy. I was going to go from Salina which was the nearest Amtrak stop about 20 min north of Wichita to Denver than to Albuquerque than to Dallas and then finally to Houston. Total travel time? Just a few minutes short of 24 hours and way out of the way. The best part was the cost was actually 25$ more than a Airplane ticket! Needless to say I flew.

  28. trollkiller says:

    @Galls: You got me a SUV for Christmas, that is so sweet.

  29. smoothtom says:

    @ad8bc: Glad to see you love the train, but I would also like to see you be consistent and call for the government to stop subsidizing the highway system and the airline industry. Air traffic control and airport construction are quite expensive–the airline industry can barely turn a profit as it is, and if they had to pay for all their infrastructure, they wouldn’t survive. To put it simply, passenger traffic is not profitable, no matter the mode. Never has been, never will be.

  30. smoothtom says:

    @Beerad: True, snarly ticket agents are no fun. But I don’t usually encounter pleasant employees at the airport, either.

  31. trollkiller says:

    For a family of four to go from Florida to Oklahoma by Amtrak it will cost more than driving and most of the time more than flying. And added bonus it will take 3 days to get there.

    We need to quit wasting tax money on Amtrak.

  32. Justinh6 says:

    I’ve never experienced Amtrak, and I think that someone is really dropping the ball on this one.

    Amtrak costs more than airfare, and takes about the same time or longer to get to your destination.

    People want an alternative to flying, but they will fly if its cheapest.

    People also don’t want to ride on the stinky greyhound bus.

  33. lemur says:

    @Nemesis_Enforcer: I can’t speak for the rest of Amtrak’s network but their service in the North Eastern corridor (between DC and Boston) is convenient and it would be a true loss if it were to disappear.

    @Justinh6: You’ve never experienced Amtrak and yet you feel you can talk about the relative merits of train travel vs air travel? The statement “Amtrak costs more than airfare” may be true for some destinations but certainly not all of them. I know because for two years I’ve traveled weekly between Philly and DC and I can tell you that any available airfare would have cost me hundreds more than Amtrak. I’ve also traveled from DC to NY and DC to Charlottesville and in each case Amtrak was cheaper.

    The other thing you need to consider is convenience. Airports can be located in fairly remote locations or just plain harder to get to than train stations. Then there’s the whole security rigmarole at the airport and the check in deadlines that require you to be there way ahead of your flight. (I think it is fair to say that the downside is that trains are an easier target for terrorists than planes.)

  34. spinachdip says:

    @Justinh6: I’m not sure exactly how you’re making your observations, since they’re pretty off.

    Plenty of people are willing to pay more to ride Amtrak between Boston-NY and NY-Washington, since the actual travel time by train is shorter than flying. Granted, it helps that the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are the most densely populated areas in this country, there are plenty of routes where Amtrak can compete with airlines, given a not unreasonable amount of backing.

    Similarly, if people didn’t want to ride Greyhound as you suggest, I don’t understand why the Port Authority Bus Terminal is so damn crowded all the time.

    My suggestion? Privatize the overnight routes and let them make their money off tourists with time and money to kill, but seriously invest in infrastructure on mid-distance routes targeting business travelers.

  35. Omir The Storyteller says:

    I like Amtrak, or at least our Amtrak. We have pretty good service up here in the PNW between about Vancouver BC and Eugene OR. My wife and I like to take the train up to Vancouver from Seattle, especially when we can use a “buy one get one free” fare, though I will admit that when you factor in the rest of the family renting a van starts looking better and better.

    Unfortunately it’s hard to justify Amtrak for a vacation outside Washington and BC, much as we’d like to. For instance, we looked into taking Amtrak to Disneyland. For four of us (three adults and a child) the round trip fare would be $592 with AAA discount. That’s much cheaper than all four of us flying into LAX and taking the shuttle to Anaheim unless there’s a fare war going on. Problem is, the train nominally takes 35 hours to reach its destination, and it has an effective on-time rate of 0%, with delays being a regular occurrance. Any delay of more than about 45 minutes means we miss the connecting train to Anaheim. And that’s if we sleep in the coach seats. If we want a sleeper we would end up paying anywhere from $500 to $750 each way depending on how much room we want.

    If you look at the train as being a destination in and of itself, that’s not so bad; but given delays and the fact that the accommodations aren’t nearly as nice as even the cheesiest of the hotels in the Disney resort area, renting a van and driving straight through for about 20 hours starts making a lot more sense, even if gas is pushing $4 a gallon. (The family car is great for around town, bless its little heart, but I wouldn’t want to try to take it on a long road trip.)

    Rail is complicated. For years the government has been neglecting rail in favor of highways and aircraft. Now that we’re starting to look at $100+ oil as a real possibility, though, we should start facing the fact that it’s much more efficient to move traffic — people or freight — by rail than it is to move it via rubber-tired road vehicles or even air.

    Personally, I would like to see an Apollo-style project to restore our nation’s rail infrastructure and bring American rail into the 21st century. That’s not just for passengers, although they’d benefit from high-speed rail. For instance, mail could be shipped by rail at a fraction of the cost of what it costs to send by air. Even a long run like Seattle to Miami or San Diego ot Boston would take at most two days, which is currently within Postal Service standards if I remember right.

    This is not to say there wouldn’t be problems, but I don’t think they’d be any more severe than we faced in putting a man on the moon, and the effects of the program visible to the average American would be just as great if not greater.

  36. synergy says:

    I hear Amtrak/rail is great – for you people on the east coast. The other day out of curiosity I looked for times and rates from San Antonio to places in New Mexico or into California (San Diego) and it’s about impossible. You could rent a car and jump on IH-10 and be there in less time and for a lot less money. THere’s actually few or no direct lines to those places. Ridiculous.

  37. Jonathan D. Parshall says:

    @lemur: On the upside, it’s a tad harder to bring down a major landmark with a train.

  38. vladthepaler says:

    Given Amtrak’s on-time rate, I’d say the strike will arrive no earlier than July.

  39. bobblack says:

    Maybe the customers should strike. Amtrack service is severely overpriced and of such low quality that I wouldn’t wish it on any traveler.

    Every car smells like cigarette smoke and there’s no such thing as assigned seating on trips through the Midwest.

  40. Valhawk says:

    LOL, wow the Amtrak workers picked a really bad time to do this.

    If they do this all it will do is drive more people away from Amtrak and towards other types of transport.

    I will smirk if they strike and then force Amtrak to cut a large number of jobs. Manly because I love irony, but also because their service is horrible and prices uncompetativly high.

  41. rrcs says:

    @Galls: Amtrak is a company with no regard for anyone but them selves, from noise pollution to regular pollution (they repair the tracks and leave the discarded rails and ties next to the tracks) I hope they strike and then we will not have the hear them a few times aday..