ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — “The ramifications are massive,” said Eldon Featherston, operations manager at Community Truck Driving School in Round Rock and Pflugerville.
He’s been keeping an eye on contract negotiations between railroad companies and workers’ unions that are threatening to shut down railroad service.
Discussions have been ongoing for months, and if the parties don’t reach an agreement by Dec. 9, it could mean a strike.
“A single [rail] car can haul three to five semi-trailers. So if they shut down, we already have a truck shortage,” Featherston said.
He estimates a shortage of about 65 to 100,000 truck drivers, and a rail strike would triple that need.
“There’s not enough drivers and equipment out there today to handle the freight that we’re seeing on our highways and byways as it sits today,” agreed John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association.
Featherston said in an average month, he cranks out 30 to 40 licensed truck drivers. Almost all of them get a job within the first two weeks of completing classes.
“My phone’s getting blown up for job offers or to come fill out applications,” said Allen Thomas, a current student at Community Truck Driving School who still has about two weeks to go.
Thomas decided to pursue the career after having a child and realizing pay starts out high.
“Just got to the point in my life where I just got tired of, you know, working low-paying jobs,” he said. “There’s not many careers that I feel like I can go into and make 70, 80 grand out the door.”
Featherston said not only would a rail strike mean a need for more truck drivers to haul goods but also drivers would have to travel farther to get them.
“A lot of it comes in on rail, and goes to hubs, and it’s distributed by trucks from hubs. So, if they’re not able to get to the hubs, that means these trucks are actually going to go to those ports, which is going to be a major major backup, and you’re gonna see it trickle down,” he explained.
He said gas prices will go up for trucks, and that’ll be passed on to the consumer.
Featherston said only rails transport ethanol that’s needed for trucks, and switching to ethanol-free would be a 30-40% increase in price.
Not only would demand for gas increase, Esparza said supply may slow down and soon.
“Railroads will begin planning to stop taking hazardous materials, including fuel, in the next week,” Esparza said. “Fuel is going to be certainly an area that’s going to be impacted more immediate, perhaps than most everything else coming this holiday.”
The Texas Trucking Association signed a letter to Congress Monday, along with dozens of other groups.
They said a stop in rail services would immediately mean supply shortages and higher prices for things like food or chemicals for wastewater treatment.
The groups said a rail stoppage would cost $2 billion per day.
President Joe Biden is also asking lawmakers to step in and pass legislation that would force the unions to accept the new contract.