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Possible freight railroad strike could shut down multiple Metra lines

Freight railroad strike could shut down multiple Metra lines
Freight railroad strike could shut down multiple Metra lines 02:51

PARK RIDGE, Ill. (CBS) -- A possible railroad strike is looming – and it could have a major impact on your travel plans and beyond.

The Biden administration has been working to avert the strike, which could begin late this coming Friday and could cost the U.S. economy at least $2 billion daily in lost productivity, potentially sparking yet another supply chain crisis.

As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Monday night, service on nine different Metra lines in the Chicago area could also come to a halt if the strike happens. The tracks on the Metra lines are owned by freight railroad companies – and if the rail unions choose to stop operating the trains, nothing will move on the railroads. That goes for passenger and freight trains alike.

If that happens, it will impact more than just commuters.

As of Monday night, Metra trains were still moving in Chicago and the suburbs. But passengers who rely on nine of Metra's 11 routes may have to find new ways to get around if the railroad workers walk off the job across the country.

The BNSF, Union Pacific North, Union Pacific Northwest, and Union Pacific West Metra lines are on tracks owned and directly operated by freight train companies. Five others intersect with tracks owned by freight partners are dispatched by freight railroads.

The only lines Metra owns, operates, and controls – and that thus would be certain to keep running – are the Metra Electric and Rock Island lines.

"I've been commuting from the suburbs to Chicago now for over 30 years," said Nigel Johnson. "I can never remember this happening."

Johnson knows if the trains stop moving, his commute from Naperville will drastically change.

"It could take two hours if I'm driving," he said. "On a train, it's 40 minutes."

Thousands who rely on Metra will be in a similar bind to get downtown.

"I guess I couldn't – yeah I wouldn't drive, and I wouldn't take the CTA because it's too far," one woman said. "So I'd have to figure something out."

At Union Station, Amtrak has already suspended three long-distance trains. The Southwest Chief to Los Angeles, the California Zephyr to the San Francisco Bay Area, and Empire Builder to Seattle will not leave Chicago – all due just to the possibility of the strike.

"Things are coming to a head," said transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman of DePaul University.

At issue is the fact that the two key unions representing conductors and engineers have yet to reach a deal. They want better pay, and a better quality of life.

Friday is the earliest workers could stop services nationwide – when a 60-day cooling-off period ends.

Schwieterman said Chicago is especially essential when it comes to the rail system.

"We're affected here almost like no other region," he said.

Schwieterman pointed out a strike is much deeper than a commuter mess.

"It really is going to bottle up the freight system. We have supply chain problems already. The ports are clogged," he said. "You throw in a rail strike – and tens of thousands of containers can't get to where they want to go - that affect stores and our everyday lives."

For now, the locomotive unions have left everyone on lookout.

"Hopefully, it doesn't' come to that," Johnson said.

But if it does, Metra riders could be looking for new ways to get downtown.

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