Amtrak announced Wednesday that it is indefinitely suspending all long-distance train service across the U.S. as of Thursday due to a potential freight rail labor strike.

Train routes began to be canceled Tuesday, with service ending in the West for the California Zephyr, Empire Builder, Southwest Chief and portions of the Texas Eagle train routes.

Beginning Wednesday, Amtrak is suspending service across the Midwest on routes including the City of New Orleans, Coast Starlight, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Silver Star, Sunset Limited and the full Texas Eagle route.

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Amtrak’s service cuts will not affect most short-to-medium-distance rail travel along the Northeast Corridor between Boston, New York and Washington. But the cancellations will affect East Coast long-distance service on the Auto Train, Capitol Limited, Cardinal and Palmetto services south of the Washington service area.

“Amtrak will only operate trains this week that we can ensure will have enough time to reach their final destinations by 12:01 a.m. on Friday, September 16,” Amtrak said in a statement.

What Amtrak is canceling and why

Amtrak in Chicago’s Union Station. LUKE SHARRETT/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Amtrak is canceling all long-distance rail services across the country due to the potential disruption created by a looming freight rail strike. The deadline for resolution of labor negotiations to avert a strike is Friday.

Amtrak and its employees are not involved in the current labor dispute, but because Amtrak operates on railways owned by major freight rail lines, any freight rail strike will affect Amtrak’s ability to operate trains along those lines.

“Amtrak operates almost all of our 21,000 route miles outside the Northeast Corridor (NEC) on track owned, maintained, and dispatched by freight railroads,” Amtrak spokesperson Marc Magliari said in a statement. He wrote that Amtrak’s cancellations “are necessary to ensure trains can reach their terminals before freight railroad service interruption if a resolution in negotiations is not reached.”

Amtrak’s suspended routes:

Suspended as of Tuesday, Sept. 13:

  • Empire Builder.
  • California Zephyr.
  • Southwest Chief.
  • Texas Eagle (Train No. 421 portion of the Los Angeles-San Antonio route).

Suspended as of Wednesday, Sept. 14:

  • City of New Orleans.
  • Coast Starlight.
  • Crescent.
  • Lake Shore Limited.
  • Silver Star.
  • Sunset Limited.
  • Texas Eagle (full service).

Suspended as of Thursday, Sept. 15:

  • Auto Train.
  • Capitol Limited.
  • Cardinal.
  • Palmetto (south of Washington).

Related: 9 mistakes travelers make on their 1st train trips

What Amtrack routes will remain open?

Union Station in Washington, D.C. DANIEL SLIM/GETTY IMAGES

Amtrak will continue to operate its full, regular schedule of short-to-medium-distance train service along the Northeast Corridor and related branch lines. Amtrak is able to do this because it owns the rail network in this area. Amtrak employees also operate the Northeast Corridor system. So any freight rail strike should not affect operations within this wholly owned Amtrak system.

Train travel should not be affected on Amtrak’s routes between Boston, New York and Washington, as well as connecting lines to Albany, New York; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and Springfield, Massachusetts.

But given the disruption to overall Amtrak operations, passengers in the Northeast Corridor should be aware of the potential for schedule changes or cancellations even on those routes. Be sure to check ahead to confirm the timing for any of your planned train trips there.

Amtrak refunding tickets, waiving fees

Amid the disruptions, Amtrak said it will notify riders who may be affected.

The operator is offering customers the opportunity to rebook without change fees or without having to pay any fare difference for departures through Oct. 31. Amtrak is also offering full refunds without cancellation fees to affected travelers.

Bottom line

Amtrak will suspend all long-distance rail service as of Sept. 15 due to the threat of an impending freight rail strike.

Amtrak will continue to operate short-to-medium-distance train routes along its wholly owned Northeast Corridor with service between Boston, New York and Washington.

Service disruptions in this area are expected to be minimal, but passengers should look for potential delays or changes.

Given the unresolved situation of the freight rail negotiations, it is unknown when Amtrak will resume service along any of the suspended routes. Stay tuned to TPG for further updates on the situation.

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