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U.S. Railroads Plan Y2K Pause As a Precaution
By Tim Dobbyn

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major freight railroads and the Amtrak passenger service said on Monday they will temporarily halt operations just before midnight this New Year's Eve as a precaution against Year 2000 computer problems.

Although millions of dollars have been spent on avoiding the computer glitch, the railroads and many city subway systems are reliant on outside supplies of electricity and telecommunications and have decided to take no chances.

``We are going to take a short pause to take everything down and bring it up and make sure it all functions,'' said Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (NYSE:BNI - news) spokesman Richard Russack. In the nation's capital, where thousands of revelers are expected to use the Metro to come downtown for ``America's Millennium Gala,'' the trains will stop at stations with their doors open for about 10 minutes starting five minute before midnight, a spokeswoman said.

The Chicago Transit Authority plans a similar exercise just in case of problems relating to the old programming habit of allocation two digits for the year in dates. ``It's just a precaution,'' said a spokesman.

Delays on the national passenger railroad, Amtrak, may last anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour on some routes through less-populated portions of the United States, a spokesman said.

``We will stop at the biggest station along each route so that if, God forbid, anything goes wrong, we can get those people off if necessary,'' Amtrak spokesman John Wolf said.

Although Amtrak maintains its own tracks in parts of the Northeast, it is mostly reliant on right of way agreements with freight railroads such as Burlington Northern, Union Pacific Corp. (NYSE:UNP - news), CSX Corp. (NYSE:CSX - news) and Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE:NSC - news).

Freight traffic is traditionally light or absent on any New Year's Eve so the pause around midnight is not expected to be terribly disruptive to freight operations.

``We run very little business over the New Year's holiday anyway so we give most our employees the time off,'' said Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley.

Norfolk Southern issued advice to customers Monday that it would begin suspending operations on the afternoon of Dec. 31 and restart operations beginning with selected trains early on Jan. 1. Normal operation would resume Jan. 2.

CSX spokesman Robert Gould said the company would coordinate a brief stoppage of about 19 Amtrak trains through its system near midnight on Dec. 31. Freight operations would be unaffected.

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