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Delays in the supply chain are national news. What’s the role of the railroad?
Railroads are short-staffed like many industries. The big Wall-Street driven class 1 carriers are certainly guilty of partly creating their own mess by laying off many workers earlier in the pandemic. Those workers went elsewhere and haven’t come back when recalled. The big railroads are having difficulty hiring. Railroad employment is down 13% from 2019. CSX has been heavily marketing their openings, but resignations are still outpacing hirings. Norfolk Southern meanwhile is sliding into meltdown with trains parked all over the place for lack of crews.
Our smaller railroads in Vermont avoided furloughs but are still short-handed. New England Central Railroad reduced through trains to only 3-4 days a week as some large shippers to the south have been rerouting traffic around Vermont. Pan-Am meanwhile has improved their worker shortage by eliminating slow orders; faster trains need less staff in total. Canadian Pacific dropped their interchange in Whitehall from daily to 5 days a week, forcing the gasoline and oil for Burlington to be trucked from Albany when the train isn’t running.
Working for a class 1 railroad is tough, typically an on-call 24/7 schedule, never knowing when you’ll be called or home. That damages relationships, prevents commitments and produces persistent fatigue. New hires are dropping out at high rates. Vermont’s railroads pay less but do have more regular schedules.
The trucking industry is even more short-staffed. It can be a hard, dangerous, and unhealthy life as a trucker and they pay in real dollars has declined significantly. There are 15,000 less long-haul truckers than 2019. Meanwhile tuck demand is up 16%.
Ports remain swamped. 94 ships are waiting to berth in Los Angeles. Truck problems are driving the delays at ports which are overwhelmed with waiting containers. Despite delays, total imports are at record levels.
Once delays pile up, the unreliability of the whole system compounds. When a train or a container or shipment isn’t where it is supposed to be, it causes further delays. Truck problems hurt intermodal rail. Delays mean equipment isn’t ready for the next shipment. We’re not seeing that level of chaos in Vermont, but the problems do cause an impact.
There is concern about what happens once the vaccine mandate goes into effect. Amtrak as well as the freight railroads are already formulating game plans to compensate for the further loss work force if the mandate is upheld.
The mess has resulted in a 10% decline in intermodal traffic [containers and trucks on trains], nationally. (And a 10% rise in average length of truck haul). Rail carload freight is level.
Transport is only one part of the supply-chain mess. Factories and distribution centers are short staffed and factories in China and Vietnam have been shut because of CoVid.
The good news is this represents good economic times and workers have more power to make positive choices for themselves and leave work situations that maybe need to change.
Wishing you the best,
Christopher Parker Executive Director
(802) 536-4607 railvermont.org/civicrm/?civiwp=CiviCRM&q=civicrm/mailing/url&u=437&qid=36864
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