Hundreds of Ventura County residents who use Amtrak service between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles may be forced to find other transportation if a rail contract can't be negotiated, officials said Tuesday.
The labor dispute involves freight carriers. But some passenger lines, such as those operated by Amtrak, could be disrupted as soon as today because they run on tracks owned by freight railroads. In Ventura County, Amtrak runs on lines owned by Southern Pacific.
"My understanding is that if there is a national strike, Amtrak service will be suspended as well as freight service," said Bob Hoppe, a spokesman for Southern Pacific Transportation Co.
Dede Holguin, an Amtrak station supervisor in Los Angeles, said Amtrak officials have put up flyers at all rail stations and platforms in Ventura County advising commuters of the possibility of a strike.
"It's hard to know what's going to happen," Holguin said. "We won't know until they strike."
Amtrak officials said 200 to 400 Ventura County residents use the trains daily to travel between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles. There are two northbound and two southbound Amtrak trains operating daily in Ventura County, with stops in Simi Valley and Oxnard.
Meanwhile, Ventura County officials said a rail strike would not significantly affect the county's agricultural industry.
"I don't think it will have a major impact," said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.
The reason, Laird said, is that about 95% of the county's farms and packinghouses use trucks to transport produce.
Curt Anderson, vice president of Sunkist Growers, which operates 14 packinghouses in Ventura County, said the company usually moves some of its citrus by rail but decided last week to use only trucks because of the possibility of a strike.
Anderson said plenty of trucks are available because shipments in the county are down after the crop damage that occurred during the winter months.
Bill Dryer, director of finance for the Port of Hueneme-Oxnard Harbor District, said the port would not be severely affected by a strike.
"Primary access to and from the port is by truck," he said.
Dryer said Mazda Motors of America was the only company at the port that used rail to ship cars to dealerships throughout the region.
However, Dryer said Mazda leases property at the port from the U. S. Naval Construction Battalion to store its inventory temporarily. He said that if a strike were to last for an extended period of time, the port could lease additional space to the company.