PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Port of Virginia set records during the pandemic crisis, but now it’s responding to a looming personnel crisis.

If the rail industry and two unions fail to reach an agreement by Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce predicts an economic disaster.

Suzanne Clark, President, and CEO of the Chamber told the Associated Press, “A national rail strike would be an economic disaster by freezing the flow of goods, emptying shelves, shuttering workplaces, and raising prices for families and businesses alike.”

Old Dominion University Professor Dr. Bob McNab says a rail strike would produce catastrophic consequences.

“If there was a railroad strike, not only would we see a significant downturn in economic activity in Hampton Roads, it would reverberate through the nation,” said Dr. McNab.

McNab says a prediction from The Association of American Railroads that a strike could cost the economy two billion dollars a day is an underestimate.

“I think that might be on the low end because if this had occurred before COVID, we wouldn’t have built up all these frictions in the economy,” said Dr. McNab.

Because the dispute has been hard to stop, Norfolk Southern has halted hazardous and security-sensitive freight that could end up stranded in the event of a strike.

“We have communicated to our customers that we will temporarily halt certain types of shipments beginning September 12. In addition, to safely ramp down our network and enable us to bring service back quickly, certain other customers will see a preliminary curtailment of service before September 16,” said Norfolk Southern in a news release.

The Port of Virginia is also on standby.

“The Port of Virginia is closely following the ongoing labor issue involving the nation’s freight railroads, two of which serve our port. The goal of our planning is to maintain fluidity at the terminals and we have the necessary resources in place to ensure this,” said the Port in a statement that also called on stakeholders, customers, and partners to check the Port’s webpage for operational alerts.

Dr. McNab is watching the headlines and says a recession could be in the nation’s future if the labor dispute is not resolved.

“It’s literally that important to the national economy that Congress and the President devote singular attention to it because if rail isn’t moving the us economy stops,” said McNab.