UP’s Rocker: ‘We Have the Momentum to Keep Moving Forward’Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Following extreme weather events, “our team continues to work hard to recover the network,” Union Pacific (UP) Executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales Kenny Rocker told customers in a Jan. 30 railroad status report.
The Class I, which has come under fire by the Surface Transportation Board (STB) for its use of embargoes, on Jan. 26 canceled an embargo related to severe weather events impacting operations across Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin; and on Jan. 28 lifted an embargo at the La Honda Canyon bridge between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, Calif., after completing repairs due to a mid-January washout.
“Admittedly 2023 started out much different than I had envisioned—Mother Nature has had her own plans,” Rocker wrote in UP’s online report. “We rolled out of 2022 and into 2023 with extreme weather events that were widespread across the network—from heavy rains and snow in California to blizzards and arctic temperatures in the Midwest. Our Operating team battled the elements and continues to improve our network fluidity. Our service metrics are trending in the right direction, and I’m encouraged that we have the momentum to keep moving forward.”
Rocker provided UP’s latest weekly metrics submitted to the STB on Jan. 27. Compared with performance in mid-April 2022 and based on the STB definitions for industry reporting, they include:
- Car Velocity: Improved 19% to 211 miles per day.
- First Mile, Last Mile: Flat at 91%.
- Trip Plan Compliance (TPC): TPC Bulk (unit train) improved 18 points to 84%; TPC Manifest improved 20 points to 79%; and TPC Intermodal improved 16 points to 89%.
Rocker told also customers that the railroad has “made solid progress on our crew hiring to help build resiliency in our network.” UP has graduated more than 1,300 crew employees, and 550-plus more are now in training. “Our hiring efforts will continue this year as we backfill for attrition and target locations in our Northern region where crew challenges persist,” he said. “We have plans to continue to utilize borrow-outs to supplement crew shortfalls.” He noted that UP has about 250 borrow-outs to support customer demand.
In an aim to “make it easier to do business with us,” Rocker told customers about two technology improvements UP has implemented. The railroad’s Shipment Management dashboard now provides more information about the inventory at customer facilities. “We increased your visibility to your release rates, available capacity and inventory on hand,” Rocker reported.
Additionally, “We heard loud and clear about the slow system performance you were experiencing with our Account on the Web (AOW) tool,” he said. “We spent one-on-one time with users to understand what we needed to work on to make viewing and disputing invoices a simpler process. I’m happy to report that our Finance and Tech teams have developed a new Invoice Management tool rolling out in early February with plans to phase out the AOW tool in the coming months.”
In a separate Jan. 30 report, UP informed customers that its Engineering and Transportation Teams restored not only the La Honda Canyon bridge on Jan. 28, but also a bridge in Santa Rosa, N.Mex., on Jan. 27, which had been taken out of service on Jan. 24, after a routine safety inspection (see map above). According to the railroad, customers with rail shipments moving between Dalhart and El Paso, Tex., may experience delays through Feb. 1 as it works off the backlog of rail shipments. “We are working diligently to normalize traffic flows through this territory,” UP reported.
Monitoring Winter Weather
For the week of Jan. 29, “much of our northern region from Idaho and Wyoming through the Midwest across Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, will experience sub-zero temperatures,” UP said. “Blowing snow across Wyoming this past weekend forced highway closures between Rawlins and Cheyenne, Wyo., and is impacting crew transportation to our Powder River Basin coal lines.”
The railroad told customers that the forecast shows:
- Continued freezing temperatures across the UP east-west main line through Feb. 1, 2023, and impacting the Great Lakes region through Feb. 3, 2023.
- An ice storm is expected to develop in the southern portion of UP’s network between Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Southern Missouri and Southern Illinois from Jan. 30 through Feb. 2, 2023. “To mitigate impacts to our operations over the coming days, we have implemented our winter action protocols to respond quickly to any service disruptions,” UP said.
“Our goal is to move your freight more consistently and reliably while improving your experience as a customer,” Rocker summed up in his railroad status report. “I look forward to sharing our progress on all of these fronts as the year unfolds. As always, thank you for your business.”