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How would a rail strike affect train service in Chicago?

Freight rail workers may be on the verge of a strike—here’s how that could impact your commute.

Emma Krupp
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Emma Krupp
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UPDATE (September 15): President Joe Biden released a statement Thursday morning stating that a tentative agreement between freight rail companies and unions had been reached. Metra announced Thursday morning that Thursday evening trains previously canceled by BNSF and Union Pacific will now run as scheduled.  

As leaders for some of the country’s largest freight rail unions continue to bargain for better working conditions, the U.S. could be on the cusp of the first national rail strike in 30 years beginning Friday morning. A potential strike, which is projected to cost the U.S. economy more than $2 billion a day, would have rippling effects across the country, shutting down thousands of freight, passenger and commuter trains in 49 states. 

In fact, Amtrak—which, although not directly involved in union negotiations, uses tracks throughout the Midwest and West that are owned and operated by freight rail companies—has already suspended service for several of its long-distance routes, including multiple lines from Chicago to the West Coast. 

So how would that impact commutes locally? If you’re one of the thousands of commuters who travel from the suburbs to Chicago via Metra, you might not have a ride into the city on Friday morning. The rail service, which runs nine lines on tracks operated by freight rail companies, announced Wednesday that if a rail strike occurs, there will be no service on Friday on the BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific West lines. Moreover, BNSF and Union Pacific Railroad will begin cutting service after evening rush hour on Thursday, September 15. (The Metra Electric, Rock Island, SouthWest Service, Milwaukee District North and Milwaukee District West lines are expected to operate as scheduled on Friday; Metra is still in communications with freight operators for tracks used by Heritage Corridor and North Central Service lines.) 

What’s more, you won’t escape the effects of a strike just because you travel by CTA or car. Because around 40 percent of U.S. long-distance freight moves by rail, it’s estimated that work stoppages will exacerbate existing supply chain issues, prompting trade groups to call upon President Joe Biden for action on the strike. We’ll keep this post updated with any news about potential work stoppages—in the meantime, check out a list of canceled services impacting Chicago below. 

Amtrak: Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles), Empire Builder (Chicago to Seattle), City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans), Texas Eagle (Chicago to Los Angeles) and the California Zephyr (Chicago to San Francisco)

Metra: In the event of strike, no service on Friday for BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific Northwest and Union Pacific West. The following service disruptions have been announced for Thursday night, per a news release:

BNSF

  • Inbound trains 1296, 1298, 1300 and 1302 are canceled (all depart Aurora after 8pm)
  • Outbound trains 1289, 1291 1293 and 1295 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30pm)

Union Pacific North

  • Inbound trains 372 and 374 are canceled (all depart Waukegan after 10pm)
  • Outbound trains 371, 373, 375 and 377 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30 pm)

Union Pacific Northwest

  • Inbound trains 666 and 668 are canceled (all depart after 9:30pm)
  • Outbound trains 661,663,665 and 601 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30pm)

Union Pacific West

  • Inbound train 68 is canceled (departs Elburn after 9:15pm)
  • Outbound trains 69 and 71 are canceled (all depart Chicago after 9:30pm)

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