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Rail News: Union Pacific Railroad

UP combats wildfires, lingering drought conditions in Texas

The worst drought conditions central Texas has encountered in 50 years have impacted Union Pacific Railroad’s track structure for most of the summer. Last week, the Class I faced a new wrinkle from the extremely dry and hot weather: wildfires.

Fanned in part by 30 mph winds from Tropical Storm Lee, wildfires broke out in the region, destroying about 500 homes and causing thousands of residents to evacuate, according to a UP service notice.

“Wildfires have encroached Union Pacific right of way on routes between Dallas and Longview; Austin/Waco and Smithville; and Houston and Hearne,” UP officials said in the notice. “Operations in these areas have been intermittently suspended as UP personnel work side by side with local fire departments, utilizing water trucks and bulldozers to build firewalls to protect track structure and attempt to contain the fires in the impacted areas.”

Engineering crews continually patrolled track and country roads to monitor wildfire conditions. Field transportation managers and special agents posted in state of Texas command centers will continue to monitor any fires and work closely with a service interruption team at the Harriman Dispatching Center in Omaha, Neb., to determine any impacts on rail operations across the region, UP officials said.

Meanwhile, engineering crews continued to repair infrastructure in areas where hot and dry conditions eroded ballast and compromised track conditions, they said.
Additional resources have been deployed to the areas, but as drought conditions linger, “crews are struggling to make significant progress” and are returning to areas where repairs already were completed, UP officials said.

“Rainfall is critical to stabilize soil and subgrade, and to allow engineering crews to make the necessary repairs and return train operations to normal speeds,” they said.

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More News from 9/12/2011