Sep. 15—A planned railroad strike that spurred Amtrak to suspend its long-distance routes Thursday, including the Southwest Chief line, was averted as railroad workers accepted a tentative deal boosting wages and expanding benefits.
The deal was good for news for a handful of New Mexico communities with stops on the Southwest Chief route between Los Angeles and Chicago, which runs through Gallup, Albuquerque, Lamy, Las Vegas and Raton.
The Chief will resume service Friday, which means the first available trains in both directions will board at New Mexico stops Saturday.
"When we announced this before the strike we did it in a way to ensure we could restore service as fast as possible and we'll have service back tomorrow," Marc Magliari, a spokesman for Amtrak's Chicago region, said Thursday. "This aligns with our effort to restore service as soon as possible."
Train ridership is not a significant part of the tourism industry in Santa Fe, about 20 miles from the Lamy station, but the loss of Amtrak service still threatened to strain the local economy and businesses, said Randy Randall, executive director of Tourism Santa Fe, the city's convention and visitors bureau.
Avoiding the rail strike is also a boon for residents and local business owners because it keeps costs from rising, Randall said. Santa Fe's tourism depends on people having money to spend.
"If there would have been a rail strike, it would've shaken confidence in the economy," Randall said. "If people get nervous about the strength of the economy and how to spend their discretionary dollars, we won't see as many people come here."
The Southwest Chief served 67,356 riders in Albuquerque in 2019, but ridership has slowly dwindled. It took a sharp drop during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and has not recovered to pre-pandemic numbers.
In 2019, the Southwest Chief served a total of 338,180 passengers. That number dropped to 135,901 in 2021, a decline of almost 60 percent, according to Amtrak.
A railroad strike would've bottlenecked the supply chain and risked steep consequences to the economy as inflation remains high. The strike appeared inevitable when government mediators were unable to broker a deal.
Now railroad conductors and engineers will receive the largest raise they have received in more than 40 years. The average salary will go up to $110,000 a year by the end of the five-year deal in 2025. The retroactive deal will give workers a 24 percent raise and $5,000 in bonuses.
"This tentative agreement will keep our trains moving, stations bustling, and employees proudly serving customers as we move them across this great country, stimulating local economies in more than 500 communities we serve," Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner said in a statement.