Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) A tentative agreement between freight rail companies and union leaders on Thursday averted what was shaping up to be a potential economic blow to the nation – including Montana freight customers.

As the potential strike deadline approach, Montana Rail Link officials said a shutdown would have local impacts and limit its ability to interchange freight traffic to its Class 1 rail partners.

“MRL will see significant impacts to our business as the majority of MRL's freight traffic either originates or terminates on a Class 1 railroad,” Andy Garland, director of communications for MRL, told the Missoula Current. “MRL will take all necessary steps to limit disruption in freight services to our customers.”

For now, at least, the agreement reached between fright companies and union leaders will keep rail traffic moving. But the deal had not yet been ratified by noon on Thursday.

Parameters of the proposed deal would result in a wage increase for workers and unpaid days off.

In the hours before the strike was set to take place, Sen. Steve Daines issued a statement urging the two sides to come together and find an agreement to avoide a disruption in service, including both freight and passenger rail.

“The Senator believes both sides need to come to an agreement which would allow Amtrak to resume canceled services as soon as possible,” Daines said. “He believes we must prevent prolonged disruptions of the movement of goods and ensure Montanans’ access to reliable services and transportation is restored.”

Thursday's agreement was brokered by U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. It must still be approved by workers. Had Friday's strike taken place, it would have had devastating impacts on the nation's economy, financial experts said.

“The tentative agreement is an important win for our economy and the American people,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “It is a win for tens of thousands of rail workers who worked tirelessly through the pandemic to ensure that America’s families and communities got deliveries of what have kept us going during these difficult years.”