updated 4/27/2005 8:16:53 PM ET 2005-04-28T00:16:53

About 8,000 railway workers staged a brief strike Wednesday against BNSF Co. in several northern states over a contract dispute, the employees union said.

The United Transportation Union stopped the walkout when a federal judge in Minneapolis agreed to hold a hearing on the union's complaint. No date was set for the hearing.

The walkout on the freight railway lasted about two hours and did not affect passenger or commuter traffic, company and union officials said.

Frank Wilner, a union spokesman, said that BNSF, a unit of Fort Worth-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp., unilaterally changed seniority rules affecting engineers on part of its system.

Dick Russack, a BNSF spokesman, called the strike "an unlawful work stoppage over a minor dispute." He said he did not know how much of the railway's 32,000 miles of track were affected.

The walkout was limited to tracks operated by the old Burlington Northern railway, from the Pacific Northwest through the northern Rockies and plains to Chicago. It also included tracks in Texas and Colorado.

It did not affect the routes of the old Santa Fe Pacific, which merged with Burlington Northern in 1995. Railroad labor contracts often have local provisions that don't extend to a railway's entire system.

The union represents 13,000 of the railroad's workers.

About a dozen unions, including the United Transportation Union, have been in contract negotiations with the five largest freight railroads since November but talks had broken down. The unions oppose a plan by the railroads to eliminate minimum crew requirements, different categories of employees, and change the workers' compensation system, Wilner said.

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