SEPTA has begun sharing contingency plans to counter the effects of a possible regional rail strike this weekend.
The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Electrical Workers Local 744 could walk off the job as soon as Saturday, shutting down all of SEPTA’s regional rail lines.
That could mean extra gridlock for suburban commuters, about 60,000 of whom take the train on a typical workday.
SEPTA spokesman Jerri Williams says the transit agency will work to minimize congestion.
All other transit services from the subways to buses will continue to operate.
“We’re actually going to try to increase capacity on the transit,” she added. “buses, the trolleys, the Norristown High Speed Line and the subways and elevated.”
The two unions’ 300 plus members have been working without a contract for several years. SEPTA plans to impose pay new contract terms, including pay raises Saturday in line with its latest offer. The unions have been pressing for increase retroactive to when their last contract ran out.
In the meantime, Williams said that, in anticipation of any work stoppage, SEPTA is also planning to add parking spaces for suburban commuters around operating stations and asking PennDOT to change planned construction projects.
PennDOT spokesman Gene Blaum said it’s too early to know many additional drivers would be on the roads. He said that construction currently underway on I-95 already takes place overnight and that crews on other heavily trafficked roadways will adjust their hours by a half hour in the morning and afternoon to allow for a longer rush hour.
“The bottom line,” he said, is that “commuters should provide more time if driving into the city.”
He advises drivers to use the 511 system to monitor traffic conditions.
Representatives of the unions and SEPTA will meet with a federal mediator in Philadelphia on Friday in a final effort to restart talks before the deadline.
It’s quite possible that, even if the sides do not reach an agreement, a strike will not begin or will be halted quickly if Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett requests that President Obama order an emergency stay, which would delay a walkout for 240 days. Corbett Spokesman Jay Pagni indicated the governor may have already made a decision but said he would not “tip his hand.”