Rail services are backed up across the United States. It would be a simple enough matter to blame the port congestion for this cargo bottleneck, but our rail system infrastructure began failing before these supply chain woes. Although, overloaded ports don’t help, considering we’re short on engines, equipment, and personnel.
This isn’t a matter of an outmoded system stumbling and failing to keep up with changing times. It’s a purposeful refusal by an industry to consider anything but short term gains.
The Surface Transportation Board Chairman Martin Oberman had this to say about our situation earlier this year: “During my time on the Board, I have raised concerns about the primacy Class I railroads have placed on lowering their operating ratios and satisfying their shareholders even at the cost of their customers. Part of that strategy has involved cutting their work force to the bare bones in order to reduce costs. Over the last 6 years, the Class Is collectively have reduced their work force by 29% – that is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls. In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees.”
The employees the rail carriers have maintained are angry. They were considering a strike because of a BNSF policy that demanded they show up for work when sick while in a pandemic. Federal law prevents rail employees from striking over what are called “minor disputes,” and they need a judge’s permission to strike. Judge Mark Pittman ruled: “A strike would hurt every single American because of the damage it could do to the economy and all the businesses that rely on BNSF to deliver their products.” Where was this ruling when these companies were slashing positions, benefits, overworking their already exhausted workforce, and failing to keep up their infrastructure and equipment? Doesn’t that hurt our economy as well?
Supposedly, carriers are working to address the worker shortage they created with mass hirings and incentive payments. While personnel is a hot issue, it’s not the only one. They still need to bring engines out of storage, make more rail cars available, and not only maintain the lines we have, most of which were built in the 19th Century, but build new ones to allow for expanded routes and the ability to move more cargo to keep up with changing demand and American innovation.
At Zarach, we know it’s important to keep cargo moving, and we’re experts in getting it done. If you have questions or concerns about this, or any other supply chain issues, reach out to your representative.