NJ Transit Strike Would Cripple East Coast Freight

Image: David Pfeffer/Flickr

During yesterday’s Railroad Day on Capitol Hill, meetings between the freight industry and New Jersey’s congressional representatives tensely broached the subject of how a potential New Jersey Transit rail strike would impact more than just daily commutes.

Freight companies use many of the same tracks as NJ Transit, and without the folks that work the signals and keep the tracks in good order, the network of trains that carry freight throughout the state—15 short lines and Class 1 railroads such as Conrail and CSX— would be stopped in their tracks. Industry representatives ominously outlined the potential domino effects:

  • Bayway Refinery would shut down. This refinery, the second largest on the east coast, converts crude oil that comes through the port into gasoline, jet fuel and heating oil that is then transported to customers up and down the east coast. Bayway is also a major producer of plastics, but without the ability to move goods, workers will be left with nothing to do.
  • Hazardous materials would be sitting — illegally — in rail cars. As industry insiders said, there are plenty of good reasons why safety regulations don’t allow hazardous materials to sit in rail cars.
  • Restarting freight movement will take two to three times longer than the strike itself. “Paralyzing is probably a mild term,” said Steven Friedland, President of Short Line Data Systems Inc. “It takes time to untie that knot, and every major industry in New Jersey south of Philadelphia will be affected.”

While Congress has the ability to override a strike, as Congressman Leonard Lance noted, they are reticent to do so. The last override was in 1987 when Congress ordered Long Island Rail Road workers to go back to work. And although Congress did not step in after LIRR workers went on strike in 1994, given the more wide-reaching impacts of New Jersey’s potential strike there’s speculation that this time may be different.

Roughly 105,000 New Jersey commuters who use NJ Transit rail each day may wonder exactly how they’ll get to work next week given the inadequate contingency plan that was released yesterday. But if a strike does happen, many more Garden State residents could soon find themselves wondering why their supermarket shelves are empty, why they can’t fill up their gas tanks, and why the doors to their jobs have been shuttered.

6 Comments on "NJ Transit Strike Would Cripple East Coast Freight"

  1. Railroad Employee | March 4, 2016 at 4:20 pm |

    Nice try at attempting to scare people, but for an advocacy group, you get an “F” on your research. NJT doesn’t own, dispatch, or maintain any of the tracks near the Bayway refinery. They are owned by the freight carriers. Those folks will still be working, and NJT workers won’t be able to picket those facilities. The only freight that should be affected, are a handful of local freight trains that operate on NJT going up toward Sufferin and Port Jervis. Anything else, is NJT operating over lines that are owned by somebody else. NJT won’t run, but the freight carriers still will. Your claims otherwise are just plain wrong, or intentional falsehoods.

  2. Max Power | March 4, 2016 at 8:00 pm |

    Wouldn’t a judge issue an injunction to the union ordering them to resume freight operations if doing the strike would leave HazMats in dangerous places?

  3. How would the Bayway Refinery be shut down? I’m not saying you’re wrong, just asking because I don’t see a connection between NJ Transit and Bayway.

  4. To try to answer “Railroad Employee” in brief, it is not a great leap to say it was probably intentional. TSTC does not appear to be an advocacy group as one would normally understand it to be, but could be construed more as lobbying group for the progressive “alternative transportation industry”. Its really impossible to tell when all the financials are hidden behind their 501C3 cloak.

  5. Also a RR employee.. | March 8, 2016 at 1:10 am |

    For the “Railroad Employee” saying NJT’s strike wouldn’t affect anything other than freight heading north towards Jervis etc.. You are incorrect.

    Freight runs down the NJCL, runs west on the RVL and some others. Without proper inspections, signal work, com lines working and dispatchers etc.. That freight ain’t goin nowhere.

    Where’s it goin?


  6. Clark Morris | March 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm |

    Does any of this freight travel on NJT owned track. The NJCL and RVL are freight only railroads and thus would not be affected. Amtrak lines would not be affected. What entity owns the Bound Brook – Newark – Jersey City ex Lehigh Valley line? If it isn’t NJT, I can’t see that much freight being affected.

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