A few months ago, U.S. rail workers threatened a strike that would have closed all bridges that crossed U.S. navigable rivers.

A good friend of mine, a passenger vessel operator on the Mississippi River, raised the alarm about a possible strike and in turn notified the Passenger Vessel Association (PVA). PVA immediately contacted the Coast Guard, who has the licensing authority for these bridges, to determine the plan to keep the bridges open for vessel passage should a strike occur.

Historically, steamboats preceded railroads in moving goods and passengers. In fact, there were no bridges that crossed navigable rivers, so it was quite simple for vessels to pass from one city to the next. The building of railways and highways brought with them the construction of rail and road bridges.

A rail strike could create a situation in which drawbridges are left in the closed position and are not staffed by bridge tenders who would open them according to Coast Guard-mandated schedules and regulation. This would cause disruptions and delays in passenger vessel schedules and cost operators tens of thousands of dollars a day in delays.

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, PVA sent letters to President Biden in July and to Coast Guard Commandant Linda Fagan in August, alerting them to this potential problem. In July, President Biden signed an executive order which established a cooling off period and appointed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to mediate and make recommendations that would help workers and management reach agreement that would prevent a strike. The deadline for this process is Sept. 16.

In late August, PVA received letter from the Coast Guard that said, “While most railroad drawbridges are kept in the open position and only close for a train to pass … In the event of a strike, which causes trains on the affected lines to cease operations, bridges shall remain in the open position.”

This is good news, but I urge all mariners to monitor the situation and discuss it with your local Coast Guard to ensure all are alerted should a strike occur.

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].