Curtis Tate Published

Rail Strike Could Halt Amtrak, Coal Shipments Weeks Before Holiday

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An Amtrak train bound for Washington stops at Alexandria, Virginia, on April 8, 2017.
Curtis Tate

The threat of a railroad strike before Christmas looms once again.

On Monday, the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation-Transportation Division, one of the largest rail unions, rejected a deal negotiated by the Biden administration.

If the impasse isn’t resolved by Dec. 5, more than 115,000 railroad employees could walk off the job. The last railroad strike was 30 years ago.

In West Virginia, a rail strike would cripple coal production. Nearly 70 percent of coal moves by rail, and nearly all of it moves by train to the ports of Baltimore, and Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.

Amtrak service in West Virginia would come to a halt, including the Capitol Limited and Cardinal routes. MARC commuter service to the Eastern Panhandle would be affected as well.

Railroads move about 40 percent of intercity freight, and there aren’t enough trucks, or truck drivers, to replace the trains and train crews. Finished automobiles, chemicals, animal feed, food products and consumer products would all come to a halt.

Though rail workers are set to get a pay increase, the sticking point is over quality of life issues. Rail management does not want to give workers paid sick leave, and some unions have balked at accepting a contract without it.