Workers, employers and travelers in the Philadelphia area have been forced to make contingency plans as a commuter rail strike adds to the region's summer transportation woes.
Four hundred workers at the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority's regional rail system went on strike Saturday morning, shutting down 13 train lines that carry commuters to the suburbs and Philadelphia International Airport.
The strike began after negotiations between the transit agency and two unions failed to reach a new contract deal Friday. No further talks were scheduled.
Subways, trolleys and buses operated by SEPTA will continue to run.
Gov. Tom Corbett is counting on negotiators to reach an agreement and keep the trains running, spokesman Jay Pagni said. President Obama could also appoint a Presidential Emergency Board to intervene in the negotiations and prevent a strike for up to 240 days.
The strike will affect hospital, airport and retail workers, although the full effect would not be felt until Monday's rush hour.
The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.
"I hope it doesn't go that far. I don't anticipate that it would, but I don't know how long it will take us to try to find a common ground — if there is any," said Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
SEPTA said that its offer to keep a previously announced wage increase in effect during an extended two-week cooling off period was rejected by the unions. Bruno noted that the union has been working without a contract for four years and an extension "without any movement toward closure is really pointless."
Bruno said striking workers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years — or about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.
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.
SEPTA, meanwhile, is planning to have extra subway cars and trolleys in service.
The strike adds to commuting headaches in the region, where major construction projects are making it more difficult than usual to get around.
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 is expected to keep a stretch of that thoroughfare closed at least through the summer, and is forcing additional traffic onto I-95. Additionally, work is scheduled to begin next week on I-95 just north of downtown Philadelphia.
Additional services will run based on the availability of equipment and manpower, according to a SEPTA, which has a service interruption plan in place.