ORLANDO, Fla. — Growing concerns about the United States’ potential first railroad strike in decades are already forcing changes in Central Florida – with more almost certain to come as the strike nears.
For weeks, union members have been at odds with freight railroad companies as a new contract is negotiated, with reports suggesting the two sides are at odds over the unions’ request to allow unpaid sick days for things like medical appointments. The companies have so far been unwilling to accommodate those requests.
While passenger rail services are not part of the negotiations, almost all tracks outside of the northeast are owned by the freight companies, which are also responsible for maintaining them. A shutdown would halt those operations.
Anticipating disruptions, Amtrak stopped all service of long-distance routes that were unable to reach their destinations by Friday. The Silver Star and Auto Train lines are included in the order, with the final trains departing Central Florida Wednesday.
“Amtrak will reach out to impacted and potentially impacted customers, informing them of the potential situation, offering to change their reservation to another travel date, waiving any difference in fare for departures through October 31, or receiving a full refund without cancelation fees,” a spokeswoman wrote.
SunRail, which also operates on the same tracks, is preparing for difficulties as well. FDOT did not announce any potential cancellations Wednesday but warned service could be interrupted if a strike happens.
“The Department continues to monitor the situation as a labor strike could impact SunRail service. More information will be available as developments occur,” a spokesman wrote.
An announcement about interruptions or cancellations could happen as soon as Thursday, with riders needing time to prepare alternate commute plans.
“My wife and I right now are in a one-car family,” Michael Cizek said as he wheeled his bike off the train from Lake Mary to Orlando. “So, it would make getting to work really challenging.”
Even non-rail riders would see impacts from a strike, but how much was still unclear.
Nationally, 25% to 30% of all goods are moved by rail, University of Florida Supply Chain Management Center Director Asoo Vakharia said, and the country’s ongoing trucking shortages mean there isn’t wiggle room to pick up the slack.
“There’s going to be issues related to getting the product to the right place at the right time in the right quantity,” if the strike lasts longer than just the weekend, Vakharia predicted.
First, he said, shortages would be seen in industrial goods like coal, metal, and agricultural goods, followed by items coming from overseas and then non-perishable food.
Shortages, if they were to happen, would put pressure on the economy and likely lead to some additional inflation. However, he said it would take a weeks-long strike for that to happen.
“I really don’t think that this should impact it, at least not in the next two weeks,” Vakharia said.
Additionally, Florida’s reliance on rail is 10% of other states thanks to its geography, adding further insulation to the Central Florida region.
The Biden administration has called a potential strike “unacceptable,” though it is not condemning the workers for asking for better conditions. Administration officials have said they are heavily involved in efforts to bring the two sides together before damage is done to the economy.
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