Negiators for unions in the railroad -industry just ran out of steam. Six railroad unions representing 286,000 workers have reached tentative agreements calling for wage and cost-of-living increases far below their earlier hopes - roughly 32.5 percent over 39 months or about the same terms other unions have been settling on this year. The unions had hoped for a bigger settlement to help members ''catch up'' with inflation.

The terms still must be ratified by the rank and file, but it is clear that the unions recognized during talks that the economic and political times were against them.

''It was not a time to be rattling sabers, to be calling a strike,'' explained Brotherhood of Railway and Airlines Clerks union president Robert Kilroy.

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