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Hurricane Rita puts hurt on Watco's Louisiana short-line start up


Officials at The Watco Cos. Inc. confronted the usual challenges when starting up a short line in Louisiana this past weekend: obtaining locomotives, organizing manpower and scheduling trains. But they encountered one obstacle they didn’t expect: Hurricane Rita.

On Sunday, officials launched the Louisiana Southern Railway (LAS) — which operates two former Kansas City Southern lines totaling 175 track miles between Shreveport and Sibley, and Gibsland and Pineville Junction, La. — hours before the storm hit the area, dropping trees and debris on portions of the lines.

Currently, LAS crews are evaluating damage and using chainsaws to clear track of debris south of Winfield. The short line — which interchanges with KCS at Gibsland, Sibley and Pineville.— is operating north from Hodge to Gibsland, and south from Hodge to Winfield.

"Months ago, we could not have anticipated having a start-up under these conditions, but as expected, our employees stepped up to the plate," said Watco Chief Commercial Officer Ed McKechnie in a prepared statement. "They have worked under extreme conditions, some of them even working after losing many of their possessions to the hurricane."