Chicago's heavy-rail commuter district, Metra, started cancelling train service that would extend past the midnight-Friday start time of the planned nationwide rail strike. Well, taking the El to work instead of Metra adds about 9 minutes to my commute, so I'll have to deal with that on Friday, I suppose. Except that commuter rail shutdowns don't even start to illustrate how bad this strike could turn out for the US economy:
[A strike] would cause immediate problems for manufacturers, says Lee Sanders with the American Bakers Association. This is nationwide. And a broad range of manufacturers who get parts, packaging and raw material delivered by rail would be effected.
"If we don't get the ingredients that we need to our plants, we won't be able to make the products that we need to get our wholesome products to the consumers," Sanders says.
So, empty shelves are a possibility. Farmers are worried too about shipping grain. Dangerous chemicals have already stopped moving. Especially valuable goods are next, and passengers are getting stranded too.
Don't forget about coal, either. About 22% of US electricity comes from coal-fired plants, including 30% of Illinois' power. (As it turns out, Illinois has a higher proportion of nuclear power—about 54% of output—than any other state, which gives us a bit more reliability.)
I have a lot of sympathy for the engineers and conductors, whose schedules seem even less predictable than even fast-food workers. I hope the railroads agree to better scheduling and time-off provisions before Friday, or we're going to have a major economic disruption while we already have high inflation. Not a good combination.