West Coast Intermodal Embargos Bring Transport Challenges

A highly visible rail line at La Conchita suffered damage from the mudslide widely reported and shown on national media that took a tragic human toll. Not as visible was damage to Nevada’s Caliente Canyon, a narrow rail passage that is one of two primary Los Angeles – Midwest lines. The UP coastal route from Los Angeles to Oakland has suffered serious damage from mudslides and ocean tides in several places. Because of the damage, an embargo was placed on intermodal traffic along specific rail corridors.

In reaction to the embargo, some customers have shifted freight to other West Coast ports where intermodal equipment and infrastructure is available. Some observers are seeing positive moves by UP in maintaining the flow of shipments from the west to east. Pacer Stacktrain – a major UP customer – notes that some intermodal trains have begun to move from the Los Angeles basin to Chicago through emergency arrangements with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNS) railroad. These trains using BNSF tracks have been selected because they carry international freight cargo in an effort to reduce and avoid backups of vessels at Eastern ports.

Tom Shurstad, Pacer Stacktrain president, notes that, “We anticipate based on current information that the UP will have largely resolved its storm-related network problems on the hard-hit South-Central corridor within weeks.”

On January 12, when the UP instituted its embargo, some 50 intermodal trains were stranded. Pacer reports that all but one of those trains have been re-routed and have completed their transits.

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