LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Reports of a deal reached after 20 hours of negotiations Wednesday between railroad unions and federal labor officials relieved fears of a nationwide strike for a country already weary of supply chain problems. The strike would have cost an estimated $2 billion a day.
For Las Vegas, the threat of a rail strike dredged up century-old strike history and an opportunity to look at the city’s current relationship with railroads. Las Vegas was born a railroad town in a 1905 townsite auction, and lives every day on a rail lifeline that carries goods from coast to coast.
Promises of a high-speed train between Southern California and Las Vegas continue to put attention on the future of railroads here.
Las Vegas might not be a railroad town anymore, but trains are ever-present as they transport cargo along Interstate 15. A strike would have hurt Las Vegas and every other city that relies on rail transport.
For a city sometimes criticized for its absence of culture, it was the Union Pacific Railyard development — now known as Symphony Park — that established the heart of a growing cultural scene. The bustling railyard of years past moved to Arden, south of Las Vegas, as the city carefully orchestrates continuing development rich in architecture, commerce and urban living spaces.
Pedestrian bridges connect Symphony Park to downtown over the rail line and Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself with new projects only yards from the historic maintenance yard where diesel engines were serviced between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
It took the city years to decide a course of development for the railyard — and it’s still under way — but the site is an important piece of the city’s future.
The threat of a strike came amid record profits for railroads — even as workers haven’t received a raise since 2019. According to an Associated Press report, the five-year deal, retroactive to 2020, includes the 24% raises and $5,000 in bonuses that a Presidential Emergency Board recommended this summer. But railroads also agreed to ease their strict attendance policies to address some of the unions’ concerns about working conditions. See more details on the deal.
A hundred years ago in Las Vegas, a strike centered on Union Pacific’s decision to cut 60 men from the payroll of Las Vegas repair shops. At the time, the population was about 2,300, according to an account from UNLV historian Michael Green. The payroll was cut after U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark of Montana sold his share of the railroad to partner Union Pacific in 1921. Clark is the namesake of Clark County.
That set off labor problems around the city, even in an era when unions weren’t strong in Las Vegas.
The railroad hired strikebreakers, and at one point the governor of Nevada called in state police as violence broke out between strikers and railroad workers.
The strike lasted until late 1922.
A strike would have affected freight traffic most, but some commuter trains would have also been affected if they used tracks owned by the freight railroads.
Almost all of the railroad news out of Las Vegas lately has centered on Brightline West, the company that intends to start construction soon on tracks for a high-speed train to Southern California. Brightline plans to build a station along Las Vegas Boulevard between Warm Springs Road and Blue Diamond Road. The project is expected to cost somewhere around $8 billion.
Expect more news in October, when grants for high-speed rail projects are expected to be released.
The train’s extension to Rancho Cucamonga is seen as crucial to its success after proposals that only ran to Victorville didn’t get enough support.
The high-speed train is estimated to take about three hours to cover the 260-mile trip.