Tentative deal reached in rail strike that threatens to disrupt Baltimore-area commuter service

Published on: September 15, 2022 at 6:00 am EDT

Updated on: September 15, 2022 at 7:30 am EDT

Commuters head to the 5:20 p.m. Camden Line MARC train on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.

Union leaders and rail companies, after negotiating late into the night Wednesday, have come to a tentative agreement that could end a rail strike that would have disrupted area commuter service and the nation’s supply chains.

President Joe Biden announced the movement in talks he said were mediated by Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh.

“The tentative agreement reached tonight is an important win for our economy and the American people,” Mr. Biden said. “It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years.”

Union members must still vote to ratify the agreement, but have agreed not to strike until after the results are tallied, according to several media outlets.

Baltimore area residents are among hundreds of thousands of rail commuters across the country who would feel the effects of a possible labor strike starting Friday that could have far-reaching economic consequences for the United States.

On Tuesday, the Maryland Transit Administration advised riders to make alternative transportation plans for MARC trains on the Camden and Brunswick lines, for which service will be suspended if railroad workers strike. According to a Maryland Transit Administration news release, CSX Transportation — which owns and maintains the Camden and Brunswick lines, and dispatches MARC trains — has been involved with the ongoing labor dispute between rail owners and their unions. Penn Line service won’t be affected Friday if union members don’t ratify the agreement.

Freight railroads and their unions had been deadlocked in contract negotiations for more than two years. Workers asking for better labor conditions had not received raises since 2019 and experienced workforce cuts as major freight railroads eliminated nearly a third of union jobs in recent years, the Associated Press reported.

An Amtrak advisory said if a strike were to occur, minimal changes are expected to Northeast Regional services and they will attempt to notify riders at least 24 hours in advance if their trains are canceled. Amtrak had announced cancellation of their long-distance routes.

An average of about 2,800 people rode the Camden and Brunswick lines every day of service in August, according to MTA spokesman Jerimiah Moerke. One is Victoria Verhoeve, who usually travels by train from Beltsville to her job in Baltimore. She plans to drive the 45 minutes to the city if workers strike.

“I’m a research scientist, so I have things that are alive in the lab, like cell cultures and things,” the 34-year-old said. “So, regardless of whether the train is running, I’m still gonna have to come in at least once or twice a week. So I’ll just drive, but it’s a lot more fun to ride the train.”

Verhoeve said earlier this week she supports good working conditions for all and had hoped the labor dispute was resolved in favor of the workers.

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“I’m sure it’ll be an inconvenience for a second, but not in the long term for me,” she said.

Another regular Camden Line commuter, 30-year-old Cointe St Brice, takes the train from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., for work a few times a week. St Brice heard about the potential strike for the first time while waiting at the station on Tuesday. He planned to ride the Penn Line if Camden Line service is suspended, which would add 15 minutes to his commute.

St Brice said he worried about other travelers who don’t have convenient alternative travel options, but he stands in solidarity with railroad workers.

“I feel like with the prices and inflation going up and everything else going on, I think people deserve to be fairly compensated. So I salute them in their efforts and I hope it works out,” he said.

In July, President Joe Biden established a special board to help settle the disputes. The board recommended in August to give 115,000 rail workers 24% raises and significant bonuses. As of Tuesday, railroads have reached tentative agreements with nine of 12 unions in national bargaining, according to the National Railway Labor Conference.

The remaining unions, including two major ones representing train engineers and conductors, had been holding out for better working conditions and attendance policies. The Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Transportation Division and Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen issued a joint statement demanding that companies stop terminating workers for getting sick or visiting the doctor. The deadline for avoiding a strike is Friday.

Nationwide rail service interruption could cost the economy more than $2 billion daily by idling more than 7,000 trains a day, according to a report the Association of American Railroads released.

What should MARC passengers do if rail workers strike?

The MTA provided a list of stations on the Camden and Brunswick lines with alternative transportation options for passengers. If there’s a disruption, the listed commuter buses will honor all MARC tickets, according to the press release. MARC weekly and monthly passes are always honored by WMATA and RideOn buses, and tickets for the Camden Line are honored on the Penn Line, the MTA said.

Camden Line

  • Camden Station — MARC Penn Line service from Penn Station
  • St. Denis — MARC Penn Line service from Halethorpe
  • Dorsey — MARC Penn Line service from BWI
  • Savage — MARC Penn Line service from Odenton and MTA Commuter Bus Route 335 and Route 345 from Broken Land Park & Ride lot
  • Laurel and Muirkirk — MARC Penn Line service from Odenton or Bowie State University, MTA Commuter Bus Route 305 and Route 315 from Scaggsville and Burtonsville Park & Ride lots, and WMATA 89M bus service to Greenbelt Metro. Important note for Laurel passengers: The stop for the 89M bus to Greenbelt Metro is on Route 1 in front of the Citgo gas station, 1 block south of the entrance to the Laurel MARC station parking lot. There is also a stop near the intersection of Main Street and Orchard Towne Court in downtown Laurel.
  • Greenbelt — WMATA Green Line service into Washington, D.C.
  • College Park — WMATA Green Line service into Washington, D.C. Passengers coming from points north to College Park via the Penn Line can use the WMATA F6 bus service from New Carrollton MARC station to College Park Metro and throughout the University of Maryland campus via Campus Drive, Stadium Drive and Regents Drive. Passengers with a valid University of Maryland faculty or student ID can ride Shuttle-UM Route 126 from New Carrollton Metro to campus.
  • Riverdale Park Town Center — WMATA F4 bus service to Prince George’s Plaza Metro station, then Green Line service into Washington, D.C.

Brunswick Line

  • Martinsburg — MTA Commuter Bus Route 505 from Hagerstown, Maryland, to Shady Grove Metro
  • Duffields, Harpers Ferry, Brunswick, Point of Rocks, Frederick and Monocacy — MTA Commuter Bus Route 515 from Frederick and Monocacy MARC stations to Shady Grove Metro
  • Dickerson, Barnesville and Boyds — MTA Commuter Bus Route 515 from Urbana Park and Ride to Shady Grove Metro
  • Germantown, Metropolitan Grove, Gaithersburg and Washington Grove — RideOn bus service to Shady Grove Metro, then WMATA Red Line service into Washington, D.C.
  • Rockville — WMATA Red Line service into Washington, D.C.
  • Garrett Park and Kensington — RideOn bus service to Silver Spring Metro, then WMATA Red Line service into Washington, D.C.
  • Silver Spring — WMATA Red Line service into Washington, D.C.

This story will be updated.

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