The Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Aug. 21 announced that it is “actively” monitoring any rail service disruptions caused by Tropical Storm Hilary, following reports of freight and passenger rail service interruptions extending north and east from Southern and Central California.
It is the first tropical storm to hit Los Angeles in more than 80 years and flooded part of Southern California, which usually experiences droughts. The freight rail network includes nearly 5,000 miles of track in California, according to the Association of American Railroads.
STB said it is “prepared to utilize its emergency service authorities pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 11123 if a ‘failure of traffic movement exists which 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.’”
Any rail carriers, shippers or other stakeholders experiencing rail service disruptions that create an emergency situation should contact STB’s Rail Customer and Public Assistance office, according to the agency. Also, to request assistance, STB said that interested persons may email [email protected] or call (202) 245-0238 or (866) 254-1792.
Union Pacific (UP) is among the railroads affected. Its Mojave and Yuma subdivisions were out of service due to water and mud over the tracks in Southern California between Banning and Indio, near Mojave, and 10 miles north of Fontana (see map, below). According to the railroad, widespread road and interstate closures were impacting its ability to transport crews to operate trains, and public electrical outages were impacting operations in some terminals.
In an Aug. 22 online customer notification, UP reported making progress in restoring service in those locations. Between Banning and Indio (Yuma subdivision), progress “continues to be made and we are currently evaluating bridge work that will need to be completed,” it said. “Mud continues to flow back onto the tracks. Our Operating and Engineering teams are bringing in additional equipment to assist in clearing the track. There is a segment of double track that traverses a bridge that will need to be rebuilt. We anticipate one of these tracks will reopen early in the morning. Once the first track is open, we will have limited use of this line segment. The second track is dependent upon the bridge repair. Early estimates indicate the track may be out of service for approximately two weeks.“ Near Mojave (Mojave subdivision), both tracks have been restored to service. North of Fontana (Mojave subdivision), service has been restored.
“Although we have returned service to some of the impacted segments, it will take multiple days to work through the backlog of trains,” UP said. “For safety purposes, these line segments will have temporary slow order speed restrictions placed upon them. We will also need to re-align locomotive power and crews to the region and customers should expect extended delays through the week. Please continue to reference our Hurricane Planning and Recovery page, which outlines best practices to follow during the hurricane season.”
BNSF in an Aug. 21 online customer notification thanked its teams “who pre-positioned track equipment and supplies, including generators, fuel tanks, and ballast, in advance of the storm to aid in service response and recovery efforts.” This allowed the railroad to protect its infrastructure and operations. “BNSF intermodal facilities in the Greater Los Angeles area are fully operational, and there are no impacts at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach,” it reported. “BNSF’s 24-hour command center will continue to closely monitor for any weather-related impacts and respond to and restore rail operations as needed.” BNSF noted that UP’s Mojave Subdivision, over which it operates between Bakersfield, Calif., and Mojave, was out of service due to severe flooding. BNSF said its crews were “on the scene to assist Union Pacific in track restoration.”
Also on Aug. 22, UP reported that Tropical Storm Harold made landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast. “Our network has experienced high winds and heavy rainfall,” it said in a customer notification. “We currently have a five-mile stretch of track underwater in Corpus Christi, Texas, that will remain out of service until the water recedes and the track can be inspected.”