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Md. companies can survive rail strike for now


Most Maryland manufacturers were making do with warehoused supplies during the first day of a nationwide rail strike yesterday. But some business people warned that unless the trains started moving again soon, layoffs and shutdowns would follow.

In addition, many managers started making plans yesterday to shift their freight to trucks or barges -- potentially increasing the costs of transporting their goods, but also creating a boon for the trucking industry.

Harris LeFew, spokesman for the Westvaco Corp. in Luke, said Westvaco's 2,000-worker paper plant in Western Maryland could only last a few days without rail service.

"If this goes on for several days, we will have extreme difficulties," he said. Although the company had stockpiled some supplies, such as wood chips and clay, it can't store enough supplies to continue its regular production of 1,200 tons of paper a day, he said.

Westvaco hired additional trucks yesterday to help replace the 3,500 rail cars it uses daily, but the trucks are more expensive, he said. Besides, he added, the company couldn't find enough trucks to fill the void left by the rail stoppage.

Bethlehem Steel Corp. officials said they too were worried about the strike.

The stoppage "will rapidly cripple Bethlehem Steel operations," William D. Shaw, a company spokesman, told Congress yesterday.

Mr. Shaw warned that unless Congress settled the labor dispute soon, 1,500 coal miners would be laid off. And if the strike continues, some steel-making operations in Pennsylvania and Indiana would have to be cut back because of a build-up of finished steel.

But Gary Graham, another Bethlehem spokesman, said Sparrows Point operations are more protected from the strike because local workers can send and receive freight using barges on the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, he said the Baltimore County facility has a couple of weeks' supplies of coke and other important steel ingredients.

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