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With a possible Amtrak strike a week away, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater is holding out hope while preparing for the worst.

Slater traveled to Wilmington, Del., Wednesday to meet with Northeastern transportation officials for talks about the strike threat.

On his return, he proclaimed the "good news" that union and management at the passenger railroad are still meeting in hopes of reaching agreement.

A strike at Amtrak could cause serious problems throughout the populous Northeast because many of the local lines that carry thousands of people to work use Amtrak's rails.

The 2,300 Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees involved in the dispute maintain track, bridges and tunnels for the railroad. They are concentrated in the Northeast.

They could strike as soon as Oct. 22, the end of a 60-day cooling-off period imposed by President Clinton in August.

Congress can intervene to block a strike, but Slater said any consideration of intervention would have to wait to see if a settlement can be reached.

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