Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - Montana consumers and businesses, as well as those throughout the country, will be deeply affected if railroad workers go on strike and freight trains no longer roll through the country.

KGVO News spoke to Patrick Barkey, Director of the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Development on Wednesday about the possible repercussions of a rail strike here in Montana.

A Railroad Strike in Montana would be Devastating

“It would be an unfortunate development clearly, but if rails were on strike that would affect all the railroads, and given that MRL (Montana Rail Link) has now gone and has been taken back over by BNSF (Burlington Northern and Santa Fe) would have a fairly high exposure in Montana. So, I guess the best news I can deliver is that it at least it comes at a time, which does not involve time-critical things like harvest.”

Barkey laid out three economic sectors that would be most affected by a nationwide rail strike.

Much of Montana Depends on the Railroad Economy

“With the ordinary commerce on trains in Montana, there are really three different ways of looking at it,” he said. “One is the employment of the rail system in Montana. So the rail towns in Montana will be affected, no question about it. Along the High Line, Billings, and here in Missoula. It will affect trains coming through Montana and that's the reason why we need those rail lines open and running.”

Barkey said the hundreds of oil container cars that run through the state into Washington and Canada for shipment overseas would be deeply affected by a strike, and that trucking simply would not be able to pick up the slack.

The Oil that Travels by Rail Simply Cannot be Hauled by Trucks

“That's exactly front and center the kind of product that is going to be most affected by a real strike, especially here in Montana,” he said. “We're not a big consumer market. We don't have a high population. We're a commodity-producing state where geographically we sit in the middle of some pretty important trade routes. And that's certainly one of them. And yes, I think that is, that is, there's really no good alternative for, shall we say, lower value higher value goods than rail and trucking is just not an option.”

According to the Associated Press:

Railroads haul about 40% of the nation's freight each year. The railroads estimated that a rail strike would cost the economy $2 billion a day in a report issued earlier this fall. Another recent report put together by a chemical industry trade group projected that if a strike drags on for a month some 700,000 jobs would be lost as manufacturers who rely on railroads shut down, prices of nearly everything increase even more and the economy is potentially thrust into a recession. And although some businesses would try to shift shipments over to trucks, there aren't nearly enough of them available. The Association of American Railroads trade group estimated that 467,000 additional trucks a day would be needed to handle everything railroads deliver.’

Food Shortages could lead to Panic Buying

In addition, big food companies don't like to discuss the threat of a rail strike because of worries about product shortages can lead to panic buying.

Barkey said Montana and the nation are about to learn just how vital railroads are to our economy if a lengthy strike does occur.

“For Montana specifically, it really depends on how long the strike goes on,” he said. “Trains are most economic for bulk items. Those things would include things like fertilizer, coal, and so forth. But unfortunately, the way we're all going to learn how important the rail system is on a day-to-day basis here in Montana is when it's no longer available, which could be the case.”

One of the biggest rail unions rejected its deal Monday over concerns about demanding schedules and the lack of paid sick time.

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