CHICAGO - Two big developments Wednesday in the looming freight rail worker strike: one of the unions rejected a tentative agreement with the freight companies, and Metra has now joined Amtrak in preemptively canceling some service, as the deadline inches closer and closer.
"To this day, [Chicago] is still the largest rail hub in the United States," said Joseph Fazio with UIC's Urban Transportation Center.
Fazio calls the rail industry Chicago's "lifeblood," which – if cut off by a strike – would carry devastating consequences not just on people trying to get around, but on the already high price of countless consumer products.
"If there are no railroad trains to deliver those goods to the trucks, the prices will increase," Fazio said.
As of Wednesday evening, three of the country's 12 rail unions have yet to come to an agreement with the freight companies. As a result, Metra announced it is cutting some service Thursday night after evening rush hour on select lines, including the BNSF, and the Union Pacific North, Northwest, and West lines.
"We are working with other modes of transportation, including the shippers and truckers, air freight, to see how they can step in and keep goods moving, in case of this rail shutdown," said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
But Fazio said air freight and truck freight cannot come close to making up for the tremendous capacity that freight trains can carry. Air freight has strict weight limitations, while trucks have limits on capacity.
"[With] trucking, there's limited capacity, so we don't have enough trucks to substitute for the railroads," Fazio said.
One expert says America would need almost another half-million trucks to fill the void if freight rail shuts down.
With just one more full day until the deadline, Metra commuters are advised to make alternate travel plans.