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How a rail strike could cripple southern Colorado

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A nationwide rail worker strike could be coming if the unions and freight railroads cannot come to an agreement before 12:01 a.m. Friday. Experts say a strike would paralyze the United States economy.

You might not realize it, but a third of U.S. freight is moved by trains every single year. Union Pacific says in 2020 rail accounted for approximately 28 percent of the total U.S. freight movement by ton-miles. 

"We're going to be very honest, a shutdown would have a tremendous impact on our supply chains," said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Everything from new cars, to oil, and even the food we eat is shipped via railroad... And if those trains aren’t moving, neither is the economy.

"The main thing that the engineers and the conductors are saying is that they need to improve the working conditions because they've been on call and working a lot more than they want to. And why? Because of the labor shortage,” said Tatiana Bailey, director of the University of Colorado - Colorado Springs Economic Forum.

If you’re thinking: 'Let’s just ship more items via trucks on the road' -- that won’t work either.

"We would require another 460,000 additional long haul trucks a day in order to make up what we would lose by train," said Bailey. "But the problem with requiring 460,000 additional long haul trucks is that we already have a shortage of 80,000 drivers. So that's not going to happen.”

The supply chain, which is already facing issues due to the pandemic and inflation, would be completely crippled by a strike.

Consumer Brands Association estimates $2 billion would be lost every day during a railroad shutdown.

Many are hoping the White House would step in before that could happen.

“I do believe that the Biden administration could order them back to work," said Bailey. "But one thing I read that was kind of interesting is that the Democrats are not really behind that. Traditionally, Democrats have been pretty pro-union, so it's kind of an interesting political situation.”

"The administration has made hundreds of calls and meetings with unions and companies since early spring and will continue to do so," said Jean-Pierre during a briefing on Tuesday. "Just yesterday, while he was in Boston, the president called both the unions and the companies to avert a strike."

The impacts of a potential strike are already being felt.

Amtrak has canceled all long-distance passenger trains starting Thursday.

The Washington Post is also reporting shipments of crops could also stop as soon as Thursday — since food cannot sit and rot on tracks for days.

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Mallory Anderson

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