Federal court orders Amtrak conductors not to stage planned walkout today

August 25, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

A U.S. District Court yesterday ordered 2,350 conductors and assistant conductors not to go on strike against Amtrak, sparing tens of thousands of rail passengers from being left at the gate today.

Judge Stanley Harris signed the temporary restraining order against the United Transportation Union in Washington in the late afternoon at the urging of lawyers representing Amtrak, who contended that a strike was illegal.

The walkout would have begun at 12:01 a.m. today and shut down all Amtrak passenger service as well as commuter lines that use Amtrak tracks or Amtrak personnel. An estimated 60,000 intracity travelers and another 60,000 commuters would have been affected.

Amtrak and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) trains will operate on schedule today. A strike would have closed the MARC Penn Line, which runs from Perryville to Baltimore and south to Union Station in Washington on Amtrak tracks.

"We're extremely relieved that this has happened," said Howard Robertson, an Amtrak spokesman. "No Amtrak passengers or MARC passengers will be affected by this."

The Mass Transit Administration, the state agency responsible for MARC, was prepared to dispatch 50 buses to provide limited service for Penn Line customers, primarily by diverting D.C.-bound traffic to the Camden Line.

"We probably couldn't have accommodated all the Penn Line customers," said John A. Agro Jr., the MTA's administrator. "We would have asked some people to seek alternatives."

The labor dispute erupted last Friday when the union notified Amtrak that they wanted a conductor or assistant conductor to be on board trains when they are taken out of service in a maintenance yard. That has not been the practice at Taylor Yard in Los Angeles and four other facilities around the country.

In a press release issued yesterday afternoon, union officials said Amtrak was attempting to eliminate 350 positions by expanding the practice to other yards. Mr. Robertson said Amtrak merely wants to "keep the status quo."

The order means the two sides will decide the issue in binding arbitration. Mr. Robertson said union officials have agreed to abide by the order and submit to arbitration.

Officials with the Cleveland-based union could not be reached for comment.

Despite the decision, yesterday proved to be a rocky day for Amtrak service between Baltimore and Philadelphia. Eight Amtrak trains were delayed after a southbound passenger train snagged overhead power lines near Perryville shortly after 10 a.m.

Power was restored to two of the four tracks by 12:15 p.m., but trains continued to be held up until 4 p.m.

Mr. Robertson said Amtrak crews are still investigating the incident, but noted that such problems are not uncommon in the summer when hot weather causes power lines to expand and droop.

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