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Rail News: Rail Industry Trends

Hurricane Rita wreaks havoc for roads operating in Texas, Louisiana


Preparing for the worst, officials at Class Is and short lines operating in Texas and Louisiana are relieved Hurricane Rita didn’t pack anywhere near the punch of Hurricane Katrina. However, Rita caused enough damage to halt or slow roads’ operations. Since the storm came ashore early Saturday morning, railroad officials have been assessing damage and clearing track.

Union Pacific Railroad officials determined the storm caused "no catastrophic damage" to the Class I’s track structure, bridges or yards, according to a prepared statement. The hurricane impacted about 2,500 track miles, 17 operating subdivisions, five classification yards and the Houston terminal complex.

The classification yards and five of the subdivisions are operational; eight subdivisions are operating with electric generators; and four subdivisions remain out of service awaiting tree and debris removal, and generator installations.

UP is keeping embargoes in place for all inbound and outbound traffic moving west from Lake Charles, La., to Houston, and inbound and outbound traffic from Houston south to Brownsville, Texas.

Because of lost revenue associated with the hurricanes, the Class I’s third-quarter operating income will drop by about $25 million, UP officials estimate.

"In the days and weeks ahead, our challenges will be to return our employees to work, return our railroad to full operation and help our customers to keep the vital commerce of this nation on track," said UP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Dick Davidson.

Meanwhile, BNSF Railway Co. is operating a limited number of trains out of Houston through Temple and Fort Worth, Texas, and southbound from Temple to Houston.

Rita didn’t damage BNSF’s Houston and Galveston yards, and minimally impacted westbound and northbound mainlines from Houston. But the storm downed trees and power lines in Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, on a mainline to New Orleans, and damaged a number of signals.

At , the railroad’s track structure and facilities were "largely unscathed" by Rita, officials said. Although 1,500 trees fell on lines between Shreveport, La. and Port Arthur, and DeQuincy and Lake Charles, La., the tracks are structurally sound and not underwater. The hurricane caused minimal damage to facilities in Beaumont and Port Arthur.

Crews will clear all trees from tracks by tomorrow, KCS officials said.

"The greatest challenge at this time is getting crews in place to run trains and providing resources for the crews, like electric utilities, fuel, lodging, water and ice," officials said.

Meanwhile, regionals and short lines in the Rita-impacted region are busy clearing track, too. Of the 17 small roads affected by the storm, three suffered extensive damage: the Timber Rock Railroad Co. (TIBR), Louisiana & Delta Railroad, and Sabine River & Northern Railroad Co.

TIBR — which operates in east Texas and west-central Louisiana — has embargoed all traffic moving to or from the short line. Operations might resume by week’s end.

The hurricane damaged TIBR’s mainline between Silsbee, Texas, and DeRidder, La. The track sustained structural damage in Silsbee and Jasper, Texas, and Leesville and DeRidder, La., TIBR officials determined.

"We are in the early stages of evaluating damage," said Ed McKechnie, chief commercial officer of TIBR parent
The Watco Cos. Inc. "Our primary efforts at this point are to support our employees who were affected by the hurricane and work to get the railroad back up and running."