A potential strike by freight railroad workers is threatening to halt passenger trains in Oregon and Washington.
The labor impasse doesn’t involve workers who operate Amtrak trains, such as those that run on the Cascade corridor in Oregon and Washington. But the tracks used by those trains are owned by freight railroad companies. That means freight dispatchers would also be off the job in the event of a work stoppage.
“If you don’t have those people operating the tracks, you cannot run trains on the tracks,” said Shelley Snow, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Transportation, which helps fund passenger train service in Oregon.
“It’s hard to say exactly what the impact is going to be until we know more,” she said. “But as you can expect, we’re monitoring the situation very closely.”
Snow said if a strike happens, all Cascades trains would be canceled starting Friday. She said Amtrak passengers traveling between Portland and Eugene would most likely be accommodated on the pre-existing Oregon Point bus route operated by ODOT, which shares several stops with the Cascades train service in Oregon.
“Amtrak is in communication with ticket-holders,” said Snow.
But starting Friday, passengers between Portland and Seattle will be stuck if a strike occurs.
“There are no buses available (starting Friday) to provide alternative transportation options,” the Washington Department of Transportation said in a press release Wednesday. The agency did say buses will be on standby on Thursday evening in case the strike gets underway, ensuring passengers won’t be stranded mid-trip.
Long distance trains such as the Coast Starlight and the Empire Builder are also affected. Amtrak has begun canceling its long-distance services across the country to ensure that passengers and crews are not stranded mid-route.
A strike would also mean the cancellation of Sounder commuter trains in the Seattle area, as those also operate on freight railroads. It would not impact light rail service in either Portland or Seattle, nor would it impact the WES commuter train service in the Portland suburbs, as that operates on a local freight railroad that’s not impacted by the national labor dispute.