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Disrupted Amtrak Service Will Resume Today as Santa Fe Strike Ends

Times Staff Writer

A strike against the Santa Fe Railway ended Thursday, halting a six-day walkout by more than 7,000 union workers that had caused the cancellation of two Amtrak passenger trains.

Full service on both the Southwest Chief between Los Angeles and Chicago and the San Joaquin line from Oakland to Bakersfield will resume today, an Amtrak spokesman said. The heavily used commuter train between Los Angeles and San Diego was not affected by the work stoppage.

The strike ended when a temporary restraining order was handed down by U.S. District Judge Susan Getzendanner in Chicago, ordering the United Transportation Union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to remove picket lines from railroad facilities and Santa Fe not to operate trains with non-union personnel in violation of union agreements.

The two unions, which led the strike of about 15 unions against the 12,000-mile railroad, had sought a court order against Santa Fe when it used management personnel last weekend to staff a Chicago-to-Van Nuys test run of a special train equipped with cars able to run on highways as well as tracks.

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A spokesman for Santa Fe said the terms of the court order had been agreed to by both sides. The striking unions could not be reached for comment.

Santa Fe, predominantly a freight service that also supplies track and crews on some Amtrak routes, had been operating at about two-thirds of normal capacity with non-union employees during the strike, company spokesmen said. In California, the railroad operated at about 90% of normal capacity.

With the walkout over, company spokesman Mike Martin predicted that freight service will be restored to pre-strike levels with union crews by Saturday.

The Desert Wind, a Los Angeles-to-Chicago line that uses Santa Fe track and crews for part of its trip, ferried passengers by bus Sunday and Monday between Los Angeles and Yermo, where the train connects to Union Pacific Railroad track, but then switched to full Union Pacific service for the remainder of the strike. The Santa Fe crews are expected to be back at work on the Desert Wind today, Martin said.

The strike started last Saturday when the company initiated a test run to the General Motors plant in Van Nuys of the truck-trailer cars, called RoadRailers. The special cars are intended to make the railroad more competitive with highway truckers, according to Santa Fe director of public relations Robert Gehrt. The 45-hour test run, he claimed, was completed faster than a similar trip by truck.

The railroad had sought agreements from the United Transportation Union and the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers to use two-man work crews, instead of the usual four or five, on the test run.

The 32-car train left, however, before the railroad could reach agreement with the unions. That prompted Paul Thompson, vice president of the transportation union, to accuse the company of violating existing labor contracts and federal railroad labor law.

Earlier this week, he accused the Santa Fe of “attempting to break” the two unions, while Santa Fe’s Gehrt maintained that the economic potential of the test was so great that “we felt we had to do it whether the union agreed or not.”

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The RoadRailer arrived back in Chicago late Wednesday.

Gehrt said that if Santa Fe wanted to operate the truck-train again, “We realize we would have to sit down and negotiate with the unions.”


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