Railroad strike averted with agreements, extension

By SAM HANANEL | December 2, 2011 | 3:31 AM EST

WASHINGTON (AP) — The threat of a costly national railroad strike during the busy holiday season has been averted after the freight rail industry settled labor disputes with two of its unions and agreed to extend talks with a third.

Without the agreements, the railway unions could have begun striking as early as Tuesday, when a federal "cooling off" period was set to expire. Retailers warned that a rail strike would cost businesses and consumers $2 billion a day and prove especially damaging during the most important shipping season of the year.

Railroad representatives said its negotiators would try to reach an agreement with the final union before Feb. 8.