September 15 Update: Verbal Agreement - View Latest on CNN

“Choo, choo! Choo, choo! Choo, choo! Choo!”

That’s a line from the classic children’s book published in 1930, “The Little Engine That Could.” It’s a simple, but well told story about optimism and perseverance. Unfortunately, right now, the “engine that could” might be signaling something quite different for rail transportation, an “industrial action,” a fancy term for an employer lock out, or employee sick out, slowdown, strike, etc.

More than a dozen rail companies are in negotiations to avoid a strike and the deadline is this Friday, September 16, 2022.

Notice how the word “strikes” rhymes with “yikes”?

Just when we are taking our masks off and inviting our customers back to our brick and mortar stores and restaurants, we’ve got this. We even thought we were past “Shippageddon,” shortages, and supply chain drama. We’re not. Yet.

It might be important to note that nearly every trade union leader is saying this is NOT about money. Even if you don’t climb into a railroad engine car every day, you can appreciate what the issues are for railroad workers–time off and work-life balance. You see, railroad workers can be on call for extended periods of time and “taking a sick day” is evidently not in the lexicon for railroads.

Union leaders also point to record profits for two of the largest rail companies and fewer rail workers. Their equation is fewer railroad workers means extra pressure on those still on the job. The temperature of the remaining workers is high and discontent is rife.

Don’t forget, Amtrak is part of this intricate story, too. You might not be able to jump on the cross-town train if a strike happens. Let alone be able to forecast inventory deliveries and inventory velocity.

If it comes to it, Congress can still jump in to extend a cooling off period. Or force a settlement.

We’re not taking sides in this debate. We did put some numbers together to help you wrap your arms and brain around this complex story.

Hang in there. It’s close to the time we often think about miracles.

  • 140,000 number of union rail workers in the US
  • 140,000 number of miles of railroad in the US (and 100,000 railroad bridges)
  • 3 unions that have not reached tentative agreements (9 out of 12 have)
  • ~30 percent of US cargo shipments that could be impacted by strikes
  • 2 per-day cost in billions of dollars to the US economy if rail workers strike or employers lockout
  • 40,000 number of rail jobs shed in the two year period before December 2020
  • 467,000 number of trucks needed if goods shifted from rail
  • 80,000 unfilled driver spots that would need to be filled to make the switch from rail (this alone, would be a miracle)
  • 30 years since last strike by rail workers
  • 100 days to Christmas from key negotiation day on Friday 16

Editor’s Note: As we put the final touches on this post the afternoon of Wednesday, September 14, 2022, we read the news that Amtrak is already canceling ALL long-distance trains starting Thursday (think the East Coast Auto Train, Capitol Limited, etc.).