A 12:01 a.m. strike deadline has passed with SEPTA and its largest union continuing their negotiations early this morning.

Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter arrived at the Holiday Inn in Center City just before 1 a.m. with hopes of reaching a settlement overnight.

A strike - which Mayor Nutter had said "was pretty unimaginable" and which the union leadership had presented as very possible - can still be called at any time by Local 234 of the Transport Workers Union.

After hours of direct and indirect negotiations that began yesterday evening - mediated by U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) - there was little indication of what would happen.

Hours before the deadline, the mayor and the governor had expressed optimism that a strike would be averted, but Local 234's president had been gloomy about the prospect of an agreement being reached without a strike.

"I'm anticipating service will continue through the weekend," Nutter said. He said he could not imagine a strike "with all that is at stake, with all the inconvenience and disruption" that a walkout would mean.

Gov. Rendell urged SEPTA's 5,100 unionized bus drivers, subway and trolley operators, and mechanics not to strike during the World Series, saying it would give Philadelphia "a little bit of a black eye" on the national stage.

But Willie Brown, president of Transport Workers Union Local 234, said during a break in negotiations about 9:30 p.m. that he was "95 percent" certain there would be a strike at 12:01 a.m. today.

"I have a feeling it's either going to be a very short strike or a very long strike," Brown said.

Brown said he would ask SEPTA officials to notify bus drivers and trolley and subway operators at 10:30 p.m. to start bringing their vehicles into depots and barns for storage, in anticipation of a walkout. That deadline, however, passed without any visible signs of an impending walkout.

The sides remained far apart on wage demands. The union said it was seeking an 18 percent pay raise over five years, and said SEPTA was offering 9 percent over five years with no increase in the first year of the new contract.

"Zero is unacceptable," Brown said.

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney declined to discuss specifics of the contract proposals, but said the sides remained far apart on economic issues.

A strike would shut down bus, subway and trolley service in Philadelphia just as the World Series shifts here from New York City for three games beginning tonight. And it would cripple commuting in the region. In its City Division alone, the transit system averages more than 928,000 trips every weekday.

The Frontier Division buses in Bucks, Montgomery, and Chester Counties would also be stilled by a strike.

Regional Rail service would not be interrupted because those crews are covered by separate contracts. Victory Division buses in Delaware County, most operating out of the 69th Street Terminal in Upper Darby; Route 101 and 102 trolley lines and the Norristown High Speed Line; "LUCY" buses in West Philadelphia between 30th Street Station and University City destinations; and Paratransit service will also continue during a strike.

At a news conference yesterday afternoon, Nutter, wearing a black Phillies cap and a red Phillies jacket, refused to discuss city plans in the event of a strike.

Instead, he listened as Deputy Mayor for Transportation Rina Cutler outlined the extra subway service that SEPTA planned to operate during the World Series if there is no strike.

"We have no reason to think that anything like that is going to happen," Nutter said of a strike.

Negotiators were meeting last night at the Holiday Inn in Old City.

A state mediator shuttled between the sides, and SEPTA chief negotiator Fran Keating also met face-to-face with Brown.

Brady, who has brokered negotiations between SEPTA and Local 234 in the past, met with union leaders early in the evening and seemed optimistic that a strike could be averted.

Brady, who chairs the city's Democratic Party and has a lot of pull with labor, was meeting with both sides early this morning. He was joined by Nutter, who showed up around 12:40 and went into the hotel without speaking to reporters.

Neither Nutter nor Rendell had spoken directly to union leaders, union negotiators said last night.

SEPTA bus, subway, and trolley operators earn from $14.54 to $24.24 an hour, reaching the top rate after four years. Mechanics earn $14.40 to $27.59 an hour.

The last strike happened in 2005 and lasted seven days.