RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-The nation narrowly dodged a massive freight rail strike after President Joe Biden announced a tentative agreement on Thursday morning to address concerns over working conditions.
The news blunted major disruptions to passenger trains across Virginia, which could’ve come to a screeching halt without a deal.
At Staples Mill Road Station in Richmond, some travelers said their trips were still disrupted by the looming threat of tens of thousands of workers walking off the job, but it could’ve been much worse.
“We were a little bit inconvenienced by it but this was just a tiny preview of what things would have been like Friday nationwide if that had gone through. I’m really glad that they were able to reach an agreement,” said William Sullivan, an Amtrak passenger whose train arrived late from Washington D.C. on Thursday morning.
“Tomorrow we’re heading back but we didn’t know if would we get stuck, if would we have any trouble renting a car and that whole nightmare,” said Laura Perry, who was heading to Washington D.C. for a show.
On Wednesday, before President Biden announced the tentative agreement, Amtrak said it would cancel all long-distance trains starting Thursday, Sept. 15.
After the deal was reached, Senior Public Relations Manager Kimberly Woods said in a statement, “Amtrak is working to quickly restore canceled trains and reaching out to impacted customers to accommodate on first available departures.”
Woods didn’t respond when asked about specific cancellations impacting Virginia and when regular service would be fully restored.
Prior to the agreement, Virginia Railway Express (VRE) was preparing to suspend service entirely. VRE didn’t cancel any trains but they did advise passengers to make alternative plans for their commute ahead of the deal.
“Word of a tentative agreement between the freight railroads and labor unions is most welcome and should allow the Virginia Railway Express to serve commuters in the commonwealth without interruption. The thousands of Virginians who rely on VRE each day to reach their place of employment are undoubtedly relieved and pleased that they can continue to travel safely and comfortably onboard our trains,” Rich Dalton, VRE Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement.
Danny Plaugher, executive director of Virginians for High Speed Rail, said VRE and Amtrak were not involved in union negotiations but they were forced to respond to the possible strike because they rely on freight rails to operate much of their service.
“If the workers walked off, Amtrak would be stuck on freight rail with potential trains that have no operators,” Plaugher said.
Plaugher said, on average, 10,000 to 12,000 thousand passengers rely on VRE and Amtrak daily. He said ridership has already suffered because of the pandemic.
“To have this shutdown happen right as we’re kind of getting over that curve was very concerning but we’re very exciting that the agreement has been done,” Plaugher said. “I’m feeling very comfortable and confident that service will continue. I have no concerns right now.”
The strike had the potential to impact much for than passenger rail services. Many feared it would cripple the supply chain, worsen shortages of essential goods and increase prices.
Governor Glenn Youngkin weighed in on Wednesday before the deal was announced.
“The nation cannot afford a rail strike right now. We’re seeing runaway inflation drive Virginians and Americans to make real sacrifices,” Youngkin said.