How the looming rail strike could impact your food purchases in the region

The Hub City of Rochelle faces challenges this holiday season, not only with the influx of shipments, but the threat of a halt.
Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 10:41 PM CST
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The U.S. House approved a tentative labor bargain Wednesday, that would avoid the looming rail strike set for December 9. Now, the bill moves to the senate for vote.

“We can work on that in the senate, and should as quickly as possible,” said Senator Dick Durbin. “A rail strike would be devastating to the economy, particularly this time of year.”

Even if the bill passes, there’s no assurances the four negotiating unions would accept the offer. This is leading many to fear the economic strain the strike could have on nearly all the items we purchase this holiday season. That includes the ones we can’t live without.

“If you eat a french fry with in a 100 miles of Rochelle, it’s come through here,” said Rochelle Economic Development and Railroad Director Jason Anderson. “If the rail strike occurs, there’s going to be a large interruption to the food chain.”

As director of the Hub City’s Transload Center, Anderson says Rochelle is where food, meets rail. More than 20 refrigerated and freezer rail cars carrying our meals come in and out of the center every day. However, Anderson says those cars can only keep food items from spoiling, for so long.

“There could be as much as a quarter of million dollars of value in that rail car,” said Anderson. “If you had a bunch of them fail, it would be catastrophic.” A concern, Burlington Junction Railway General Manager AJ Martin, knows all too well. That’s why he says his team has a plan in place.

“It’s a whole modification, of working with the customer, having that fleet management to figure it out,” said Martin. “Each rail car that’s temperature controlled has it’s own fuel source, has it’s own system, so we could control it to where we can monitor and make sure it doesn’t spoil.”

Martin says worst case scenario, they’d be able to control the temperature of each cart, although it would be costly. Meanwhile, Anderson says the center has enough space to keep all that rail, at Rochelle.

“We’ll hold onto these cars, as long as we have to hold on to them, until things get resolved,” said Anderson.

Anderson says another plan if the strike occurs, is to transport those items to local trucking companies. However, the shortage of truck drivers could bring another issue.