Japan’s catastrophe will impact U.S. rails

Published: March 14, 2011

The natural disaster that hit Japan will have both a positive and negative impact on U.S. rail jobs, although it is too early to determine more precise impacts or their timing.

The Journal of Commerce, quoting the U.S. Grains Council, reports that many of Japan’s agricultural facilities have been severely damaged, which could result in increased imports by Japan of U.S. grain, much of which might move by rail through U.S. Pacific ports.

The rebuilding effort in the earthquake and tsunami damaged areas could also boost U.S. exports of building and relief supplies, which might move by rail to U.S. Pacific ports.

Additionally, with the loss of significant nuclear-power generating facilities, and the flooding of coal stocks at coal-fired generating plants, Japan could boost its imports of steam coal for power generation; and there should be an increase in iron ore and coking coal imports for steel production during a long-term rebuilding process.

Conversely, four of Japan’s Pacific coast ports were severely damaged, which could — in the near term — limit both Japanese imports and exports, which could adversely impact U.S. railroads and railroad jobs.