US can focus on clearing rail jams after labor deal reached, LA Port director says

With rail companies and union negotiators reaching a tentative agreement to avoid a national worker strike, freight companies should turn their attention to clearing backlogged train terminals across the country, the head of the Port of Los Angeles said Thursday.

About 28,000 containers were awaiting a train at the Port of Los Angeles Thursday, a figure that is about three times higher than where it should be, Los Angeles Port Executive Director Gene Seroka told reporters. Additionally, rail facilities in cities like Chicago, Kansas City and Dallas are facing jams, Seroka noted.

“Rail has been challenged for months throughout the national freight network,” Seroka told reporters Thursday. “Since spring, we've seen spikes in volume as well as backlogs and bottlenecks.”

Officials feared a major economic fallout could have occurred if railway unions moved forward with a strike this week, though a tentative agreement reached Thursday between rail worker unions and the freight railroad industry was reached to avoid the strike. The strike would have involved thousands of workers nationwide and was likely to cause “significant disruptions to the US economy,” Seroka said.

“With today's announcement of the tentative agreement, everyone can now shift their focus back to the work on the ground,” the port director said.

Seroka said he anticipates “some disruption nationwide” for some cargo as a result of rail companies preparing for a potential strike this week. He said the port has seen “minimal, if any, disruption of cargo flow.”

The Port of Los Angeles saw a record-breaking cargo year in 2021, and Seroka said the port is headed for its “second busiest year” in port history this year. He is anticipating a “lighter holiday season” this year compared to last year, when the nation’s busiest port saw an unprecedented backlog of cargo.

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