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Railroads rebounding from Harvey impacts

Sep 05, 2017

Following a Labor Day weekend that had railroad crews continuing to be busy in recovery efforts from Harvey, rail operations have resumed in much of Texas, in some cases on a limited basis, with those in the far eastern part of the Lone Star State looking to be the last to get back online.

A week after Hurricane Harvey’s initial Aug. 25 landfall just north of Corpus Christi, BNSF Railway was reporting that intermodal trains were arriving at and departing out of its Houston intermodal facility at Pearland, where terminal dwell charges were suspended.

“Rail access into the Houston complex from the north and west is largely clear and nearly all BNSF facilities in the region are open,” BSNF stated in a Sept. 1 letter to customers, following a report a day earlier of “significant progress” in around-the-clock efforts to restore rail service and facility operations in the Houston area and other portions of southeastern Texas.

However, BSNF yards farther east, toward the Texas-Louisiana line – at Beaumont and Silsbee – remained closed through Labor Day due to flooding-related outages caused by heavy rains of what had evolved into Tropical Storm Harvey when the storm reached that area.

Nonetheless, by the end of Labor Day weekend, BNSF reported that it had resumed acceptance at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach of at least some import containers destined for the Houston area.

Union Pacific Railroad, in its Labor Day update to customers, reported that, while significant embargoes remained in effect, “We continue to make great strides restoring our Gulf Coast operations impacted by the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey. Where repairs have been completed we are, or will soon be, operating trains.”

Near Tomball, Texas, 30 miles northwest of Houston, BNSF employees replace ballast in efforts to restore a section of track damaged by flooding from Harvey.
Near Tomball, Texas, 30 miles northwest of Houston, BNSF employees replace ballast in efforts to restore a section of track damaged by flooding from Harvey.

UP said that, by Labor Day, trains were being operated at “normal levels” where routes were open and crews available but that flooding remained an issue in the portion of Texas closest to the Louisiana line, including Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur. “We continue to adjust our transportation plan to route trains around the out-of-service line segments,” UP told customers. “The change in traffic flows has created crew availability challenges.”

On Labor Day, Kansas City Southern reported “some encouraging news,” included limited reopening of its Rosenberg subdivision, thus permitting cross-border traffic to and from its suburban Houston intermodal facility at Kendleton.

“However,” according to the KCS advisory, “due to the continued saturated conditions of the land and continued repair work, strict speed limits of 10 mph are in effect. Delays should be expected on all routes for some time while we reduce backlog and respect imposed speed restrictions given the conditions and repair work.”

But, while the Sabine River water level was dropping and highways reopening in far eastern part of Texas, the KCS Beaumont subdivision was reported as still closed, with embargoes remaining in effect in that region.

And, although the force majeure declared on Aug. 25 for Kansas City Southern Railway and Kansas City Southern de Mexico remained in place, KCS, as of Labor Day, had lifted embargoes for traffic between Houston, Corpus Christi, Victoria and Rosenberg and Laredo.

“Due to the widespread nature of this hurricane, all rail carriers in this region have been impacted,” KCS said in its Labor Day advisory. “We remain committed to resuming service via detours or normal operations as soon as possible.”

Author Photo

For more than a quarter of a century, Paul Scott Abbott has been writing and shooting images for the American Journal of Transportation, applying four decades of experience as an award-winning journalist.

A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, with a master’s magna cum laude from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Abbott has served as president of chapters of the Propeller Club of the United States, Florida Public Relations Association and Society of Professional Journalists.

Abbott honed his skills on several daily newspapers, including The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Richmond (Va.) News Leader, Albuquerque Journal and (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, and was editor and publisher of The County Line, a weekly newspaper he founded in suburban Richmond, Va.

A native Chicagoan, he is a member of American Mensa and an ever-optimistic fan of the Chicago Cubs.

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