Regional rail commuters in Philadelphia searched for alternatives today after transit workers went on strike, halting service to suburban communities.
The strike began at 12:01 a.m.today after negotiations failed between two unions, representing locomotive engineers and electrical workers, and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. Trains stopped running on 13 regional rail lines, including the line to Philadelphia International Airport.
No talks were scheduled for the weekend, but Gov. Tom Corbett said today that he had asked President Barack Obama to establish a presidential emergency board to help resolve the dispute. If the president creates the board, the workers will return to work immediately, Corbett said.
“The people of Philadelphia and the surrounding region expect and deserve a safe and efficient rail system to get them to work, medical appointments, school and recreation,” Corbett, a Republican, said in a statement. “I call on both parties to work together, find common ground and place the riders at the forefront of mind in their discussions.”
A presidential emergency board usually has 30 days to investigate a dispute and develop a proposed agreement for the parties to consider, according to the National Mediation Board.
During the workweek, about 60,000 commuters typically use the regional rail system, according to the transportation authority, which is more commonly known as SEPTA. Subways, trolleys and buses were still running, and additional trips were being added to those routes to accommodate extra customers, transportation officials said.
Workers held signs as they picketed outside rail yards and stations today. SEPTA officials posted notices at stations saying trains were not running and directing customers to their website for alternatives.
In Philadelphia, the conflict has centered on proposed pay increases for about 400 workers. SEPTA and the two unions, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been negotiating since 2010 without coming to an agreement.
Union officials said the proposals from SEPTA were not comparable to what other unionized transit workers in the city had received. This month, nearly 99 percent of members of the engineers and trainmen union voted to authorize the strike.
The last strike at the regional rail system was in 1983 and lasted 108 days, said Stephen Bruno, the vice president for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen. He said the workers wanted to resolve the matter quickly, but were prepared for a long strike if necessary.