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Some Metra trains to be canceled ahead of freight railroad strike deadline

As the deadline for a possible freight railroad work stoppage approaches, Metra warned trains on some of its lines could stop running Thursday night.

If a freight railroad strike or lockout were to take place, service would be canceled Friday on the commuter rail service’s BNSF and Union Pacific North, Northwest and West lines, Metra said. The four commuter rail lines are owned and operated by the BNSF and Union Pacific freight railroads.

Other Metra lines interact in other ways with the freight railroads, but Metra said it expects to be able to run scheduled service Friday on some of them. Those include the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines — its only two lines that do not interact in any way with freight railroads — as well as the SouthWest Service and Milwaukee District North and West lines.

The commuter rail service said it was continuing to talk with the freight railroads that interact with Heritage Corridor and the North Central Service to determine whether Metra could run trains on those lines.

The BNSF and Union Pacific railroads have said they will begin cutting back on service Thursday night in preparation for a potential work stoppage, according to Metra. That means nearly two dozen Metra trains across each of the BNSF and Union Pacific lines would be canceled Thursday night, including:

  • All outbound BNSF and Union Pacific North, Northwest and West trains that depart Chicago after 9:30 p.m.
  • All inbound BNSF trains that depart Aurora after 8 p.m.
  • All inbound Union Pacific North trains that depart Waukegan after 10 p.m.
  • All inbound Union Pacific Northwest trains that depart the terminals after 9:30 p.m.
  • All inbound Union Pacific West trains that depart Elburn after 9:15 p.m.

Federal law bars a freight railroad strike or lockout before Friday, and Congress could intervene and block a work stoppage if the unions and railroads can’t reach a deal by the end of the week. But the freight railroads and Amtrak have begun taking preemptive steps.

Amtrak on Tuesday began canceling trips on some long-distance routes out of Chicago in a move intended to avoid possible disruptions should the freight railroad workers walk out while lengthy passenger train trips are underway. Nearly all of the passenger service’s routes outside the Northeast U.S. run on track that is owned, maintained and dispatched by freight railroads, and a walkout could disrupt passenger service.

The freight railroads also said they would begin curtailing shipments of hazardous materials and other chemicals Monday to ensure carloads of dangerous products won’t be stranded along the tracks if the trains stop moving. The heads of the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division union that represents conductors, and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen union that represents engineers, criticized that decision as a move to increase pressure on shippers and Congress to intervene.

Business groups and the White House have pressured the railroads and unions to resolve the contract dispute because of concerns over the economic impact of halting shipments of materials so many companies rely on. The Association of American Railroads trade group put out a report last week estimating that shutting down the railroads would cost the economy $2 billion a day.

The majority of the unions representing some 115,000 workers have reached tentative agreements needed to avert a strike at the nation’s biggest freight railroads, including Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, Kansas City Southern and CSX. The tentative deals closely followed recommendations by a Presidential Emergency Board that called for 24% raises over five years, $5,000 in bonuses and one additional paid leave day a year.

But the two biggest unions representing conductors and engineers have been holding out because they want the railroads to go beyond those recommendations and address concerns about strict attendance policies that they say make it hard to take any time off, and increasing workloads after the railroads cut nearly one-third of their workforces in recent years.

The Associated Press contributed

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