Freight cars in Rigby Yard in South Portland on Wednesday. Experts say a national strike by railroad workers could wreak havoc on the country’s already stressed supply chain and deliver a major blow to the U.S. economy. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Before railroad companies and unions representing tens of thousands of railroad workers across the U.S. reached a tentative agreement, Maine businesses and transportation officials waited to see how a strike might affect the state.

Nate Moulton, director of freight and business services at the Maine Department of Transportation, put it simply: “It would not be a good thing.” 

About 60,000 union workers for the country’s largest freight haulers, known as Class I railroads, had been prepared to strike if they couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract with better working conditions. Experts say a national strike would wreak havoc on the country’s already stressed supply chain and deliver a major blow to the U.S. economy. 

President Joe Biden said Thursday that a tentative railway labor agreement had been reached, averting a potentially devastating strike before the pivotal midterm elections.

He said the tentative deal “will keep our critical rail system working and avoid disruption of our economy.”

It would have been the first national railroad strike in 30 years.


In Maine, six railroads carry freight over 1,100 miles of tracks. Only New York and Pennsylvania have more track in the Northeast. The Maine trains haul a wide variety of cargo, including paper, lumber, chemicals, produce, frozen seafood, cars and appliances.

Only two of the six railroads are categorized as Class I – CSX Transportation and Canadian Pacific Railway – and neither company’s Maine branch appears to be included in the strike. 

CSX purchased Pan Am Railways, the state’s largest rail operator, this summer, and Moulton believes Maine CSX employees are still working under Pan Am labor agreements. CSX could not be reached for confirmation.

The potential strike targeted American railroads, so Canadian Pacific was not included, good news for freight that runs east and west across the state.


But the freight rail strike had already had an impact on passenger traffic. Amtrak announced Wednesday that it was suspending all long-haul routes as a result of the potential shutdown. The negotiations do not involve Amtrak employees, but the passenger railroad runs on some freight lines. On Wednesday, however, none of the lines in the Northeast was expected to be interrupted. Patricia Quinn, director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, said Amtrak’s Downeaster service from Boston to Brunswick probably wouldn’t be affected.


But that doesn’t mean that Maine would have been untouched by a strike. The projected impact on the national supply chain would be mirrored here, Moulton said. 

A strike would bring the country’s freight rail system, which carries nearly 30 percent of the nation’s cargo, to an abrupt halt. This would be a devastating blow to the still-recovering U.S. economy, with an estimated loss of $2 billion a day in economic activity. A strike also could cripple the struggling supply chain. 

The Association of American Railroads has said there’s no way that the trucking industry, which is already short of drivers, would be able to pick up the slack if the trains stop running. An estimated 467,000 additional trucks a day would be needed to handle all the goods and materials. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to congressional leadership on Monday that a shutdown of the rail service would have “enormous national consequences,” CNN reported. 


“It would lead to perishable foods such dairy, fruits and vegetables spoiling at their points of origin, would halt Amtrak service for approximately 12.2 million daily riders in 46 states, would disrupt materials and goods being delivered to factories and ports, and would inhibit the transport of heating fuel and other important fuels and chemicals. These are only a few examples of the damage of a rail shutdown,” Neil L. Bradley, chamber executive vice president and chief policy officer, said in the letter.


Tom Brown, president of the Maine Automobile Dealers Association said before the agreement that it’s “very likely” that there will be some disruption, but that it remains to be seen how much. Nearly all new vehicles that are transported more than a few hundred miles from the factory to their destination are shipped by rail.

Retailers were already feeling the effects of a possible strike, as the uncertainty caused some freight carriers to limit services. The impact would have been particularly widespread as many retailers prepare for the busy holiday shipping season. L.L. Bean Inc., however, was optimistic, saying it relies only minimally on rail transportation.

What a strike would have meant for gas and energy prices is unclear, but roughly 300,000 barrels of crude oil move by rail each day and about 5 million barrels of propane are moved each month, The Associated Press reported. And roughly 70 percent of U.S. ethanol, used in gasoline, is shipped by rail

Charlie Summers, president of the Maine Energy Marketers Association, said it’s too soon to speculate on what the impact would be in the state, but he’s “hoping that they’ll be able to work something out and hope that cooler heads prevail.”

A strike could actually have had a positive impact for Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, whose freighters dock in Portland.

“We move little if any intermodal via rail,” Andre Haines, executive vice president, said in an email. He explained that most of the freighters’ cargo hand-offs are with trucks. “The potential strikes will, I’m sure, drive more business to our service, especially for customers importing or exporting to and from the New England area and possibly further afield.”

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story