By David Shepardson
DETROIT (Reuters) -U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak said it will temporarily cancel all of its long-distance trains starting on Thursday - along with some state-supported trains - because of a potential freight rail work stoppage that could start the following day.
Amtrak workers are not involved in the labor dispute, but the railroad operates almost all of its 21,000 route miles (33,800 km) outside the U.S. Northeast Corridor on track owned, maintained and dispatched by freight railroads.
Railroads including Union Pacific, Berkshire Hathaway's BNSF and Norfolk Southern have until a minute after midnight on Friday to reach tentative deals with three holdout unions representing about 60,000 workers before a work stoppage affecting freight and Amtrak could begin.
Amtrak made its announcement on Wednesday after earlier in the week deciding to cancel 10 long-distance trains throughout the United States ahead of the Friday deadline.
Trains to be canceled starting on Thursday are: the Auto Train (Washington to Sanford, Florida), Capitol Limited (Washington to Pittsburgh), Cardinal (Washington to Chicago) and the Palmetto (south of Washington to Savannah, Georgia). Before COVID, Amtrak had about 4.4 million passengers annually on long-distance trains.
Late Thursday, Amtrak said it would also cancel some state-supported train services starting late in the day, including the Capitol Corridor, Amtrak Cascades, Heartland Flyer, Illinois, Michigan and Virginia services, as well as San Joaquins and part of the Pacific Surfliner and Springfield services.
Some commuter train systems such as Chicago's Metra have also said they will be forced to begin cutting service on Thursday. Minnesota's Northstar Commuter Rail, operated under contract by Berkshire Hathaway's BNSF, that serves the Minneapolis area, said its service could be suspended as early as Friday.
Moody's said Amtrak's decision to suspend long-distance trains is "credit negative, as it will impact customer retention and revenue, resulting in higher operating losses. However, as the company relies on federal funding and operating losses were anticipated, the suspension will have a limited credit impact on Amtrak unless it persists."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Franklin Paul, Cynthia Osterman and Richard Pullin)