October 01, 2023

Possible rail strike changes Amtrak

A feared strike starting Friday by the railroad industry impacts Amtrak service in Creston.

Amtrak announced Monday interruptions will begin today on its national routes including the California Zephyr line that stops in Creston. The passenger railroad said it is stopping trains on three long-distance routes, “to avoid possible passenger disruptions while on route.”

“These initial adjustments … could be followed by impacts to all Long Distance and most State-Supported routes,” Amtrak included in a statement. “These adjustments are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals prior to freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached.”

The California Zephyr route uses tracks owned by freight lines. Those tracks likely are not expected to be available to passenger trains in the event of a strike.

Amtrak stated it is closely monitoring the labor negotiations and is “hopeful that parties will reach a resolution,” citing potential effects on passenger operations. Amtrak explained it has begun adjustments to service for a possible freight rail service delays adding “such an interruption could significantly impact intercity passenger rail service.”

Amtrak Monday announced cancellations on trains with Tuesday departures on the Empire Builder, the California Zephyr and the Southwest Chief routes. The Southwest Chief has a stop in Fort Madison, Iowa.

Jim Mathews, president and chief executive of the Rail Passengers Association, said canceling trains early makes sense to avoid a scene in which rail passengers could become stranded.

“It’s better to cancel some trains now than to send some people out onto the road and then have them stranded in the middle of nowhere because the strike has hit and the train can’t move anymore,” he said. “Meanwhile, we all keep our fingers crossed that finally [the railroads and labor unions] get to a settlement.”

Many union employees of freight railroads have been negotiating a lengthy dispute over pay and working conditions. According to the Washington Post, after a presidential board recommended a compromise, 10 of 12 unions involved have agreed to the deal, but the two largest have not. Workers could strike or the railroads could lock out passenger rail agencies.

The possible rail labor strike could further bother a national rail network that’s been slowing officials with the Rail Passengers Association said, especially hurting Amtrak customers.

Amtrak trains have been effected by problems on freight rail lines, which often share tracks with Amtrak trains.

One-third of Amtrak riders had delays in July, according to on-time performance data, with an average delay of 71 minutes. The share of delayed customers is trending up, Amtrak data shows, and delays are getting longer, according to the Washington Post.

The disruptions are more noticeable for travelers on long-distance routes — which are late more than half the time — and in parts of the country outside the Northeast Corridor.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.