Western U.S. railroads Union Pacific and BNSF have been grappling with wildfires in California and Oregon that have closed portions of their networks.
Current weather conditions aren’t helping either: The next couple of days will be hot and dry in the intermountain West as severe drought conditions persist, reports FreightWaves meteorologist Nick Austin. There’s a chance of thunderstorms in parts of the Northwest, Great Basin and Northern California areas. However, many of these could be dry thunderstorms, so lightning could spark new fires, according to Austin.
UP (NYSE: UNP) said more than 80 large fires have been burning in 13 states across the western U.S., totaling more than 1.3 million acres of damage to date, according to a Tuesday service advisory. That includes multiple locations on UP’s network, the railroad said.
“While those figures are startling, the good news is we have a resilient network with dedicated employees who are working very hard to address our current service interruptions as fast as possible,” UP said. “Our operating team has been both protecting and rebuilding our rail lines and are doing all they can to keep operations running during this record-breaking fire season.”
The wildfires have affected a number of areas on UP’s network.
UP temporarily stopped trains from running on its main line near the California towns of Keddie to Portola over the weekend due to wildfires. The outage has limited one of its reroute paths for UP’s I-5 traffic, the railroad said. An engineering team is assessing track damage and UP is unable at this time to say when the track would reopen.
UP is also working with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to minimize any potential fire damage at the Dixie Fire north of Oroville. UP has deployed its water trains to help spray down bridges and apply thermo gel to protect structures, UP said.
Meanwhile, a fire in Beckwourth, California, has been nearly contained and UP is running trains through the area, although the railroad is also monitoring for hot spots.
All this is on top of a bridge closure that occurred last month. The Dry Canyon Bridge north of Redding, California, has been closed after the Lava Fire swept through the Shasta-Trinity Forest in late June. UP crews along with the U.S. Forest Service worked along a 90-mile stretch of track to stop the fires, but the bridge and about 70 miles of track sustained damage. The bridge and the track should reopen in mid-August, and traffic has been rerouted through Salt Lake City, UP said.
Meanwhile, BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B) has also been fighting fires on its network. In a service advisory from last Wednesday, BNSF said it suspended service between Stockton, California, and the Oregon state line because of multiple wildfires in the region. Like competitor UP, BNSF has been impacted by the Dixie Fire, which last week threatened rail lines and several bridges, including BNSF’s main line BNSF said.
Customers should anticipate longer transit times due to rerouting, BNSF said.
“Customers with shipments designated to move to/from Northern California should expect delays until service can be safely restored. Operations teams have implemented procedures to reroute Pacific Northwest-Southern California train flows. Some trains are now moving through the central Rockies, including via our Northern and Southern Transcon routes, to reach destinations,” BNSF said last Wednesday.
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