CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — The Senate averted a looming rail strike Thursday in an 80-15 vote to impose a tentatively approved labor deal.

The threat of the strike had been intensifying over recent days, emphasizing the key role that trains play in West Virginia’s coal industry.

12 News Reporter ​Makayla Schindler Spoke with West Virginia Coal Association President Chris Hamiliton about how a strike would have threatened the coal industry’s supply chains.

“The rail service generally has a huge effect on our business,” Hamilton said. “We transport upwards of 70 percent of all the coal we mine in West Virginia over the rails here, within the state. And that continues to the export terminals and throughout the southeast where a lot of our coal goes to.”

Different types of coal are transported in two other ways: by river barge and conveyor belts. However, most of the operations are captive to the true system of how the infrastructure was laid out in the state. A lot of mining operations do not have direct access to the river system. Another concern for the coal industry is storage, according to Hamilton.

“In the event that there is a prolonged strike—and in fact, it’s not even a prolonged strike—in the event that there’s a strike beyond just a few days, we’ll get really really concerned because there will be a tendency of exhausting our ability to stockpile coal at the mine site where it comes out, where it’s processed and prepared to go to market,” Hamilton said. “[There’s] very limited capability, at the mine level to store excessive amounts of coal.”

If there is nowhere to put the coal, then the mine production centers will have to begin slowing down. Hamilton said not only would the state lose tax revenue, but many may also lose their jobs.

A strike deadline of Dec. 9 had been set, but Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned Thursday that unless a deal was reached, rail companies could have begun shutting down operations well before the deadline.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden for final approval.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (D) was among the “Yes” votes and sent 12 News the following statement:

Today I voted to codify the negotiated collective bargaining agreement and prevent any type of rail strike. A strike of that magnitude would have a painful impact on our economy and that is an unacceptable scenario as inflation continues to squeeze West Virginians and Americans heading into the holiday season. Our rail workers provide a tremendous service to our country and I am pleased to know they will be getting a 24% wage increase, additional personal leave and additional provisions to protect them from being punished when they take unpaid sick leave. While I am sympathetic to the concerns union members have raised, I do not believe it is the role of Congress to renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement that has already been negotiated.

Sen. Joe Manchin