STB Issues Emergency Service Order to UP

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
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The Surface Transportation Board (STB) on June 17 directed Union Pacific (UP) to deliver on its commitment to move unit trains of corn from origins in the Midwest to California on behalf of Foster Poultry Farms, following the chicken and feed producer’s exparte petition for an emergency service order.

According to Livingston, Calif.-based Foster’s June 15 petition, UP hauls corn to Foster facilities in 100-car unit trains, where it is processed into corn meal for animal feed. “The petition alleges that service failures began in February 2022 and that Foster Farms … engaged the Board’s Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs, and Compliance (OPAGAC) to resolve the situation,” the Board wrote in its June 17 decision (download below). “According to Foster Farms, an emergency service order is necessary to alleviate the harm to its business and the poultry, dairy, and feed yard livestock that depend on the distribution of corn meal supplied by Foster Farms. … Foster Farms further states that the corn delivered by UP is corn exclusively used to feed hundreds of thousands of cattle and millions of chickens that provide food supplies and that UP’s service failures impact Foster Farms’ ability to serve the public.”

STB explained that it may issue an emergency service order “under 49 U.S.C. § 11123 when it determines that circumstances, such as the unauthorized cessation of operations or other failure of traffic movement exists that creates ‘an emergency situation of such magnitude as to have substantial adverse effects on shippers, or on rail service in a region of the United States or that a rail carrier providing transportation subject to the jurisdiction of the Board … cannot transport the traffic offered to it in a manner that properly serves the public.” STB found that the order was “warranted” in this case.

Specifically, Foster requested that, for a period of at least 30 days, the Board direct UP to:
• “[P]rioritize the assignment of crews to Foster Farms’ unit trains at loading origins.
• “[P]rioritize the transportation of Foster Farms’ unit trains on UP’s system with the goal of minimizing the extent to which the crews on such trains ‘time out’ under the Hours of Service rules, thereby enabling the train to complete its movement from origin to destination without stopping, the crew departing, and then waiting for a new crew.
• “[A]ssign and retain sufficient locomotives to Foster Farms’ trains at loading origins to ensure that once a Foster Farms train is loaded there is sufficient locomotive power for the unit train to immediately begin its trip to Foster Farms’ Traver and Turlock [California] facilities.
• “[P]rovide the Board with daily status reports over the 30-day period regarding the delivery of Foster Farms’ trains, to include the number of trains and cars billed to Foster Farms’ Traver and Turlock facilities, and actual performance versus trip plan data for these shipments.”

UP on June 16 filed a reply with the STB, “acknowledging that it has not provided adequate service to Foster Farms and that it is committed to improving,” according to the STB. “UP states that it will improve service by moving an additional train set into service; prioritizing, over other network requirements, the following: (1) the additional trains/cars; (2) crews needed for Foster Farms service; (3) locomotives to be used for Foster Farms service; (4) providing the Board with daily data specific to Foster Farms service until the volume requirements are fulfilled; and (5) participating in weekly technical conferences between the parties and OPAGAC until the volume requirements are fulfilled.”

STB wrote in its decision that Foster Farms counsel and personnel “advised that delivery of these trains [by UP] would provide meaningful temporary relief.”

The agency ordered UP “to perform on its specific commitments of service … destined for the Turlock and Traver facilities,” and wrote that should the Class I railroad “need to deviate,” it should “advise the Board and Foster Farms in writing as soon as it is able.”

STB noted that “[n]othing in this order relieves UP of its common carrier obligation with respect to the rest of its network. The Board will closely monitor UP’s rail service and OPAGAC, although it is also advising the Board, will continue to be available to the parties should they need additional assistance. The Board encourages the parties to utilize OPAGAC staff to reach an informal resolution of these issues.”

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