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Philadelphia region braces for potential rail strike
Philadelphia • Workers, employers and travelers in the Philadelphia area were making contingency plans as they braced for a threatened rail strike that could add to the region's summer transportation woes.
Unions representing about 400 engineers and electricians were expected to resume talks Friday evening with a mediator and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.
The unions planned to walk off the job at 12:01 a.m. Saturday if they couldn't reach a deal, shuttering 13 regional rail lines that serve about 60,000 weekday commuters. SEPTA buses, trolleys and subways in the region would continue to run.
A strike Saturday would affect hospital, airport and retail workers, although the full effect would not be felt until Monday's rush hour.
Philadelphia International Airport is trying to help employees and travelers make contingency plans, including bus options and carpools.
"We can't foresee who needs what assistance, but we certainly have reached out to people," spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said. "We're certainly hoping that everything is resolved and there isn't a strike."
The labor conflict came to a head this week after SEPTA announced it would impose a deal beginning Sunday. Terms include raising electrical workers' pay immediately by an average of about $3 per hour; the top wage rate for locomotive engineers would rise by $2.64 per hour.
Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said workers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years — or about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.
The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.
Gov. Tom Corbett was counting on negotiators to reach an agreement and keep the trains running, spokesman Jay Pagni said.
President Barack Obama could also appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to intervene in the negotiations and prevent a strike for up to 240 days.
SEPTA, meanwhile, was planning to have extra subway cars and trolleys in service.
Even without a strike, major construction projects were making it more difficult than usual to get around the region.
The lines carrying PATCO commuter trains between Philadelphia and southern New Jersey are being replaced over the Ben Franklin Bridge, affecting not only the train schedule but also car traffic on the busy bridge.
Emergency work on a bridge on Interstate 495 in Delaware was expected to keep a stretch of that thoroughfare closed at least through the summer, and is forcing additional traffic onto Interstate 95. Also, work is scheduled to begin next week on I-95, just north of downtown Philadelphia.
The commuting difficulties could be reduced a little as summer vacation season ramps up. But that could create problems for another group.
"Along with the effects to commuting, summer travelers also have to adjust their plans," AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman Jenny Robinson.