A nationwide freight rail strike tomorrow could halt service on two of the state's three Maryland Rail Commuter train lines and force 8,000 commuters to change their way to work, transportation officials warn.
For 2,800 riders on the line from Baltimore's Camden Station to Union Station in Washington, the state will provide alternative train service, MARC officials say.
Meanwhile, the Mass Transit Administration will provide bus service for 5,200 riders of the line from Washington to Brunswick in Western Maryland.
Freight railroads and their unions said today they were deadlocked after an all-night bargaining session and Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner said he considers a coast-to-coast rail strike likely at midnight.
"There's every indication" Congress will have to step in, Skinner told reporters today while attending a business event. He said he hoped Congress could act as early as tomorrow.
Members of railroad unions with about 235,000 members nationally have threatened to strike at one or more freight rail lines at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow.
If they do, service could stop on the Camden Station and Brunswick lines. The state contracts both of these services to CSX Transportation Inc., one of the carriers that could be affected by the strike.
If CSX is struck, those trains would not run, says CSX spokeswoman Andrea Just.
But state commuter trains would remain in service along the most heavily traveled MARC commuter line, which runs between Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station and Union Station, says MARC spokesman Joe Nessel.
Amtrak operates the Pennsylvania Station line, which carries about 9,000 passengers a day. Amtrak is negotiating separately with its unions on a different set of contracts and should be unaffected by a strike, an Amtrak spokesman says.
Meanwhile, Amtrak's regular passenger service along the Northeast corridor from Washington to Boston is expected to continue despite a strike.
Amtrak says a strike could affect service to Chicago, New Orleans, Georgia, Florida, the Carolinas and other places where Amtrak trains run along freight railroad lines.
Locally, the state estimates that about 100,000 people commute daily between the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas, using cars, trains and other forms of transportation.
Along the Pennsylvania Station line, the state plans to add the daily equivalent of three additional trains in the event of a strike, enough to carry another 2,000 passengers, says Nessel.
Passengers who normally ride the Camden line would be permitted to use their monthly commuter tickets on the Pennsylvania Station line, Nessel says.
He notes that the Camden and Penn commuter lines run parallel. A commuter who usually uses the Camden line may have to drive about 15 minutes to reach the nearest station on the other line, he says.
Late yesterday, the MTA announced it had assembled a fleet of buses from private carriers to handle passengers on the Brunswick line in case of a strike.
Spokeswoman Kathleen Kohls said buses will leave from the Brunswick and Point of Rocks stations about the same time as the trains normally do. They will take passengers to the Shady Grove Metro station in Montgomery County, where passengers can switch to regular Metro service.