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How Would a Rail Strike Impact Hazmat Shippers?

Posted on 11/29/2022 by Roger Marks

Update 12/05/22: On December 4, President Biden signed legislation that requires railroads and rail workers to accept the terms of a tentative labor agreement reached by employers and union leadership earlier this year.

President Biden had called on Congress to legislate an agreement between railroads and labor unions that would pre-empt a potential strike before the current “status quo” period ends on December 9.

A coalition of 449 industry groups sent a letter to Congress as well, asking the body to intervene and stop a potential rail strike that would have devastating effects on supply chains. By Monday evening, Congressional leaders released a statement pledging to “consider legislation adopting the Tentative Agreement reached in September…” .

The fact that Congress acted to enforce an agreement before a strike occurred shows how important the rail system is to supply chains in the US, especially the transportation of chemicals and other hazardous materials. If a rail strike ever happens in the future, how will it affect hazardous materials shippers?

How a Rail Strike Impacts Hazardous Materials Transportation  

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) states that chemical manufacturers will be among the first industries impacted by a work stoppage. 

96 hours before a strike is expected to begin, railroads may halt the movement of hazardous materials shipments to prevent this cargo from being unattended or unsecured in the event that work on railways stops. This will delay chemical shipments and could easily cause a domino effect—facilities that require chemicals as inputs to their own manufacturing or processing activities may be unable to obtain what they need.  

Hazardous materials frequently transported by rail include chlorine needed to purify and treat water, fertilizers used to produce food, and chemicals crucial to energy production.

Inability to ship or receive chemicals could result in facility shutdowns, supply shortages, and price increases. In total, a strike could cost the US economy an estimated $2 billion per day (AAR Report, September 2022).  

What About Transportation by Truck?

Some shippers began to shift from rail to trucks to deliver their goods in recent weeks—but not all shippers have that option. Rail is often the only viable option for transporting very large volumes of some hazardous chemicals or crude oil, for example.

According to the AAR, it would take approximately 467,000 additional trucks per day to pick up the slack left by a rail shutdown.

How Would a Rail Strike Impact Hazmat Shippers?

Rail is often cited as the safest and most efficient method of transporting bulk volumes of hazardous materials; the Association of American Railroads has stated that 99.9% of hazmat rail shipments reach their destination without a release caused by a train accident (AAR Hazmat Fact Sheet).

If a rail strike were to occur, hazardous materials shippers would be severely affected. Those impacts would reverberate through supply chains, as shipments of chemicals and substances necessary for everyday life become disrupted or delayed.

In addition to the $2 billion per day it would cost the US economy, the ACC estimates that as many as 700,000 jobs would be lost in multiple industries, and that the economic slowdown could “shove the economy out of recovery mode and into a recession” (American Chemistry Council).   

Last 2022 Hazmat Training Webinars and Workshops 

Develop in-depth expertise needed to classify and name materials, package hazmat, mark and label packages, fill out shipping papers, and comply with DOT reporting and recordkeeping mandates. 

A Lion instructor will present the final Hazmat Ground Shipper Certification (DOT) webinar of the year on December 13–14

On December 19, join us for webinar training that covers the latest IATA DGR requirements that air shippers must know for 2023. 

For training on the additional rules that apply to rail shipments, we recommend this self-paced online course: Hazmat Ground Shipper—Additional Rail Requirements (HMT 370) 

For in-person training, join Lion in Philadelphia or Hartford in December for the final DOT and IATA hazmat shipper workshops of the year. 

Philadelphia           Dec. 7–9
Hartford Dec. 14–16

Hazmat Ground Shipper Certification Workshop (DOT)
Hazmat Air Shipper Certification Workshop (IATA)

Browse more upcoming workshops, including training coming in 2023, at Lion.com/Hazmat

Tags: hazardous materials, hazmat rail shipping, hazmat shipping

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