Freight trains in Montana and nationwide could stop this week. Here’s why.

JUSTIN FRANZ Montana Free Press

Freight trains across the United States could come to a halt this week if six of the seven largest railroads in North America — including BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, which both operate in Montana — cannot secure new labor contracts by 12:01 a.m. Friday, following more than two years of contentious negotiations.

At that hour, either the railroads can lock out employees, or unions representing tens of thousands of railroaders can go on strike. On Monday, a shutdown of the network appeared so likely that some railroads began to secure hazardous material shipments should a strike or lockout occur, though the unions dismissed that action as a ploy to get shippers to complain to Congress to force a solution. The Washington Post reported that White House officials are holding emergency meetings this week in hopes of preventing a strike.

A shutdown of a vast majority of the freight rail network could cost the American economy more than $2 billion a day, according to an economic analysis by the Association of American Railroads, as well as impact agricultural and manufacturing shippers in Montana and elsewhere. A shutdown of the rail network, which moves 1.7 billion tons

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