Contact Us
Make My Homepage

Philly’s SEPTA Rail Service Back After Obama Order

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Commuter rail service in the Philadelphia area was restored early Sunday, just hours after workers returned to their jobs following a brief strike that was ended when President Barack Obama intervened.

Jerri Williams, spokeswoman for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, said all workers scheduled for morning shifts Sunday showed up and some train lines with early starts, such as the Airport Line, were rolling before 5 a.m. A few hours later, the company said on its website that normal operations had resumed.

“Regional Rail is back,” Williams said in an email.

The strike began after negotiations between SEPTA and its engineers and electricians unions failed to reach a new contract deal Friday. It shut down 13 train lines that carry commuters from Philadelphia to the suburbs, Philadelphia International Airport and New Jersey.

Obama on Saturday granted Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s request to create a presidential emergency board to mediate the contract dispute, forcing the 400 union workers to go back. Obama ordered the establishment of the three-member board effective at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and called for “a swift and smooth resolution.”

The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.

Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen vice president Stephen Bruno said his union’s members were complying with the order to be back on duty at 12:01 a.m.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers president Terry Gallagher said Obama’s intervention was “what we were waiting for.”

“We have been five years without an agreement, trying to get to this point, and we’re happy we’re here now,” Gallagher said.

The unions and SEPTA don’t have to resume talks with each other, but they do have to participate with the board’s process, which typically involves written submissions and hearings. Obama is giving the board 30 days to deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved.

The strike added to the commuting headaches in the region, where major construction projects are making it more difficult than usual to get around. Commuter Carolyn Tola and three friends paid $40 apiece to take Amtrak from central New Jersey to Philadelphia instead of $9 on SEPTA because they had nonrefundable Pennsylvania Ballet tickets.

Corbett called on SEPTA and the unions to work together and keep commuters in mind.

“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 said.

The unions said the strike, which began early Saturday, was designed to force SEPTA to agree to their demands or accept binding arbitration. Workers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years, about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.

SEPTA regional rail train
SEPTA regional rail train (6 ABC)

Obama is giving the board 30 days to deliver a report recommending how the dispute should be resolved.

More than 400 workers went on strike at midnight Saturday.

“As long as these workers show up for their regularly scheduled Sunday shifts, Regional Rail service will restored to full Sunday operations in the morning, starting with the first scheduled service trains runs on all of our 13 commuter rail lines,” said SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams. First trains on Sundays start running at around 6 a.m., she said.

Stephen Bruno, vice president of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, said his union’s members will comply with the order and be back on duty at 12:01 a.m.

The move shut down train lines that carry commuters from Philadelphia to the suburbs, Philadelphia International Airport and New Jersey. The agency’s subways, trolleys and buses continued to run.

“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.”

The unions said the strike was designed to force SEPTA to agree to their demands or accept binding arbitration. Workers are seeking raises of at least 14.5 percent over five years – or about 3 percentage points more than SEPTA has offered.

“My head’s going to hurt by the end of this day,” said volunteer Rusty Schwendeman of the Traveler’s Aid Society, after helping reroute about two dozen rail travelers Saturday morning at 30th Street Station.

They often involved several connections, longer routes or a significantly higher fare on Amtrak.

Carolyn Tola, of Hamilton Square, New Jersey, and three friends paid $40 apiece to take Amtrak from central New Jersey to Philadelphia to see the Pennsylvania Ballet instead of $9 on Septa.

“We’re here,” Tola said, noting that the ballet tickets were nonrefundable. “We’re going to relax and enjoy it.”

The strike began after negotiations between the transit agency and two unions failed to reach a new contract deal Friday. The last regional rail strike, in 1983, lasted more than three months.

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.

The strike added to the commuting headaches in the region, where major construction projects are making it more difficult than usual to get around.

Drexel University dance team members Beverly and Angela Tomita, 18-year-old twins, had planned to take the airport line for a 2 p.m. flight home to Laguna Beach, California, for the summer.

“That’s so not convenient!” Angela Tomita said when she found the region rail entrance closed at 30th Street Station. Schwendeman soon directed them to a subway-and-bus route.

“They’re not the best answers, but they’re the best answers I can come up with,” Schwendeman told another teenager about her three-bus route home to suburban Blue Bell. “I don’t want to send anybody to the middle of nowhere, either.”

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

Best of the Web


Leave a Comment

It appears that you already have an account created within our VIP network of sites on . To keep your points and personal information safe, we need to verify that it's really you. To activate your account, please confirm your password. When you have confirmed your password, you will be able to log in through Facebook on both sites.

Forgot your password?

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

It appears that you already have an account on this site associated with . To connect your existing account with your Facebook account, just click on the account activation button below. You will maintain your existing profile and VIP program points. After you do this, you will be able to always log in to http://nj1015.com using your Facebook account.

*Please note that your points, prizes and activities will not be shared between programs within our VIP network.

Please fill out the information below to help us provide you a better experience.

Register on New Jersey 101.5 quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!

Not a Member? Sign Up Here

Register on New Jersey 101.5 quickly by logging in with your Facebook account. It's just as secure, and no password to remember!