5 ways a national railroad strike could impact you
Freight trains may not be top of mind for most consumers, but a potential national railroad strike could soon impact almost every aspect of commerce in the U.S., affecting the daily lives of millions of Americans. A work stoppage could occur on Friday morning, just after midnight. That’s when a 30-day “cooling-off” period ends under terms of a law called the Railway Labor Act, which governs contract talks in the railroad and airline industries. The Biden administration has been trying to prevent a railroad strike before that deadline.
Halting freight train could cause more than $2 billion in economic losses per day for the United States, according to the Association of American Railroads. Millions of Americans would feel the effects of a shutdown if it lasted more than a few hours. It would disrupt shipping of goods, coal, and other manufacturing components. Experts say that strike would affect commuters as many passenger trains would be unable to use the freight tracks.
A strike “would really affect day-to-day living and the basics of how society lives in society,” Rachel Premack (editorial director at FreightWaves), told CBS MoneyWatch.
She said, “There are all these strange random things that we don’t think too much about but are pretty fundamental to our lives” and mentioned the trains that transport cement and lumber.
A stoppage lasting only one to three working days may have a minimal impact, given the lower freight traffic on Fridays and Saturdays, according to Jason Miller (chairperson of supply chain management at Michigan State University). He said that a strike lasting until the middle or greater part of next week would be disruptive.
Canceled commuter trains
Already, some travelers are feeling the impact, with Amtrak on Wednesday suspending all of its long-distance routes to ensure the rail service’s trains can reach their final destinations ahead of the possible strike. Amtrak and other commuter train services in the U.S. depend on freight tracks to operate passenger railways. This is why some are preparing for possible disruptions.
Metra, a Chicago-area train service, warned Tuesday that nine of its 11 lines could be affected because they use freight lines or are dispatched by freight companies. About 14 million passenger trips were taken on Metra last year, according to the service. It said that two of its lines, the Metra Electric line and Rock Island line, would continue to operate because it owns, operates, and controls those tracks.
Other commuter lines that have warned of possible service disruptions include the Maryland Transit Administration and the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission in California.
Longer wait times for new cars
Because most new vehicles are shipped from the factory or dock by rail, there is not enough truck capacity to handle all those vehicles in case of a strike. Dealers and motorists would have to wait longer to get their hands on the new cars. A strike could also affect vehicle production, as automakers receive parts and raw materials via rail.
Higher energy costs
Coal, which is mostly transported by train, provides about 20% of U.S. power. According to Miller, Michigan State, delays in delivery could lead to higher energy prices.
Many dangerous fuels and gases are shipped by rail as it is safer than transporting them by truck, according to Bindiya Vakil (CEO of Resilinc), a Fremont-based supply-chain tracking company. “Because all these things, transportation of your gas to your local stations could be disrupted. A lot of that is also transported by rail. “
Bare shelves at stores
The railroads have announced plans to stop shipping refrigerated items ahead of the strike deadline, so there could be disruptions in deliveries of produce, meat and other items.
Food producers could also be affected. According to agricultural groups, even a short strike could cause delays in the shipment of feed to poultry and livestock producers, which could lead to an increase in meat prices.
Likewise, many building supplies are shipped via train, ranging from lumber to cement, so there could be shortages of these materials at home supply stores. If they are unable get lumber or other products, builders could also be affected.
Experts say additional pressure on energy and food costs would likely add to the hottest inflation in 40 years now impacting household budgets. It’s difficult to estimate the exact impact, as it will depend on the duration of the strike.
Many experts believe a strike would not last long because Congress would be likely to step in and force a resolution, as has happened during past stoppages.
” “It’s almost like your body and blood are not being delivered. That’s how bad it is,” Vakil stated about the impact of a strike on rail workers. “In fact, in the 1980s, Congress stepped in after four days because of the pain that was being felt. This is how quickly it can become a very bad situation. “
— With reporting by Irina Ivanova and the Associated Press.
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