Panic over the prospect of a rail strike in the United States

Panic over the prospect of a rail strike in the United States

Panic over the prospect of a rail strike in the United States

The strike could not legally begin until the evening of Thursday 15 September, at midnight, but it is time for panic in the United States, as a possible paralysis of the railways approaches. Amtrak, the public passenger transport company, canceled its long-distance routes, such as Seattle-Los Angeles, starting Thursday for fear that its customers would be stranded in the countryside.

Some chemical shipments, such as ammonia and fertilizer for farmers, are suspended, so they should not leave these hazardous materials unattended. Oil from Canada or the Dakota Plains are also threatened.

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Ten out of twelve unions representing 49,000 employees signed an agreement with employers, but the base of one of them rejected it. Above all, two motorist unions that are expected to carry the voice of 60,000 people have not reached any compromises after three years of negotiations. The absence of a full agreement before Thursday evening could cause the entire sector to go on strike.

“A national disaster”

A conflict of this magnitude would be unprecedented since 1992 and would be a disappointment for Joe Biden’s administration, as the mid-term elections loom on November 8. The paralysis of the railways would block the economy again, while bottlenecks, particularly in the ports, begin to be absorbed: that of Los Angeles has only a dozen container ships waiting, compared to 100 in January.

A strike would cost, according to the American Railroad Association, 2 billion dollars (2 billion euros) per day, or 3% of gross domestic product.

Minor in passenger transport, the railway plays a leading role in the American economy: it represents an essential link in the intermodal transport (sea, rail, truck) of containers, as well as agricultural, petroleum and chemical products. Around 7,000 long-distance trains, sometimes with more than a hundred wagons and four locomotives, stretch across the countryside, connecting Los Angeles to Chicago or Savannah (Georgia) to Nashville (Tennessee). The traffic is handled by seven major private companies, such as CSX, Union Pacific and BNSF, 22 regional and nearly 600 local.

A strike would cost, according to the Association of American Railways, 2 billion dollars (2 billion euros) per day, or 3% of gross domestic product. The American Chamber of Commerce regrets in advance “A national disaster”, while the association of oil producers fears interruptions “catastrophic”.

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