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A Canadian National Railway freight train idles on Wisconsin Central railroad tracks near Rosemont, Ill. as it waits for an approach signal. - 


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: U.S. carmakers rely on Canada for many of the parts they need. However getting them over the border may soon become a problem. 2,800 conductors at Canadian National Railway are off-the-job in a strike that could cause shutdowns on this side of the border. Steve McNally reports from Toronto.

STEVE MCNALLY: The U.S. car industry gets $26 billion worth of car parts from Canada every year, much of it transported by rail just in time for assembly.

They don't have any inventory to fall back on, says Gerry Fedchun of the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association.

GERRY FEDCHUN: The inventory is on the truck or on the rail car. That's where it all is. So if something slows down or something doesn't happen, then you have immediate stoppages.

Managers are running the trains themselves during the strike, but how long can they do it?

Barry Prentice, professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba, says they may have to hand off to their rivals.

BARRY PRENTICE: We have to also remember the other railway is still functioning quite normally, and so there may be some ability to shift some of that load over to the other railway too.

Either way, Prentice says, shipments to the U.S. will likely get priority over domestic traffic.

In Toronto, I'm Steve McNally for Marketplace.