Here’s what a national railroad strike would mean for San Antonio – San Antonio Express-News

Business and government officials are bracing for the possibility of a nationwide rail strike at the end of this week while talks carry on between the largest U.S. freight railroads and their unions. Here’s what you need to know:

Thirteen unions are involved in negotiations with the railroad companies, with pay the biggest issue. The unions are also trying to improve working conditions. Eleven have reached a tentative agreement, but the largest two unions have not. Those two represent 57,000 workers covered under railroad union contracts. On Friday, the trains they run could stop in a national railroad worker strike. Even those unions whose leaders have reached agreements with the railroad companies have yet to get approval from their membership.

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What are railroad companies doing?

They’ve already started to curtail shipments of hazardous materials and have announced plans to stop hauling refrigerated products ahead of Friday’s strike deadline. Businesses that rely on Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific, BNSF, CSX, Kansas City Southern and other railroads to deliver their raw materials and finished products have started planning for the worst.

Is it a big deal?

One-third of all freight that moves in the U.S. goes by rail. That includes everything from automobiles like those made at Toyota in San Antonio, groceries like those on the shelves at H-E-B, oil and gas pumped at wells in South Texas, and agricultural products like those grown across the region. Rail is the busiest shipping mode after trucks.

What about Texas?

Texas has the most miles of railroad tracks of any state, followed by Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California and Kansas.

An Amtrak passenger train and a freight train head northbound towards downtown Chicago Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Chicago. Business and government officials are preparing for a potential nationwide rail strike at the end of this week while talks carry on between the largest U.S. freight railroads and their unions.
An Amtrak passenger train and a freight train head northbound towards downtown Chicago Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2022, in Chicago. Business and government officials are preparing for a potential nationwide rail strike at the end of this week while talks carry on between the largest U.S. freight railroads and their unions.Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Can’t trucks pick up the slack?

Trucking companies say there is no way they could step in, and a rail strike would even cause problems for truckers who depend on rail to move shipping containers. Such “intermodal” shipping underpins America’s transportation system.

What about Amtrak?

Though Amtrak workers are not involved in the labor dispute, Amtrak and other passenger railroads are affected because many of them operate on tracks owned by one of the freight railroads. Starting today, Amtrak is stopping some long-distance runs because there wouldn’t be enough time for them to reach their destinations before a strike or lockout would be allowed to begin at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Effective today, Amtrak has suspended its service on the Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited lines that serve San Antonio. It’s also suspended the California Zephyr, Empire Builder, City of New Orleans, Starlight and other lines.

What will happen with crops being harvested this fall?

Farmers are worried a strike would mean grain storage bins run out of room fast if they can’t send farm products on out rail.

Can’t the Texas Railroad Commission do something?

The commission no longer has any jurisdiction or authority over railroads in Texas, a duty that was transferred to other agencies. The RRC now regulates the state’s energy industry. The last of the state commission’s rail functions were transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation in 2005.

Will Congress act?

Were the railroad workers to go on strike, Congress could intervene to force them back to work as they did during a labor strike in 1992. That work stoppage, which interrupted rail service nationwide, was ended by Congress after two days. On Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat., told reporters that Congress was prepared to take similar action this time.

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