Pacific Surfliner
A Pacific Surfliner. Photo courtesy of Amtrak

U.S. railroads and their unions negotiated a tentative contract deal Thursday after 20 hours of intense talks brokered by the Biden administration, averting a strike that could have disrupted freight and passenger traffic across the country.

Amtrak had halted long-distance trains, and warned that Pacific Surfliner service would be disrupted beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday. Many commuter trains in the Los Angeles area faced disruptions because portions of the tracks they use are owned or managed by freight railroads .

President Biden announced the deal early on Thursday morning, calling it “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.”

If they vote to accept the deal, workers whose pay had been frozen will win double-digit increases. The agreement includes an immediate 14.1% wage rise, the railroads said.

Unions will now vote on the agreement. Even if those votes fail, a rail shutdown that could have happened as soon as midnight Friday has been averted for several weeks, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

A rail shutdown could have frozen almost 30% of U.S. cargo shipments by weight, stoked inflation, cost the U.S. economy as much as $2 billion per day and unleashed a cascade of transport woes affecting the U.S. energy, agriculture, manufacturing, healthcare and retail sectors.

The impact would have stretched beyond U.S. borders because trains link the United States to Canada and Mexico and provide vital connections to massive ships that ferry goods from around the globe.

Numerous disruptions to passenger traffic were expected along the 351-mile Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor, with commuter and long-distance trains canceled or temporarily replaced with buses.

“We are doing everything we can to notify our customers and provide alternate service options if the rail service is interrupted,” said Jason Jewell, interim managing director of the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency.

The only services not affected by a strike would have been the North County Transit District’s Coaster and Sprinter trains.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.