Nearly two weeks of rain in the Los Angeles basin preceded
the killer storm of January 12th that caused severe
flooding, high tides, and mudslides. The already
service-clogged Union Pacific Railroad lost one third of its
capacity as the storm washed away roadbeds, bridges, and
dumped mud and debris over the tracks. Severed was the Coast
Line between LA and Emeryville, the San Joaquin Route, and
the mainline to Las Vegas.
Barbara Mudslide Photo UPRR
The UP threw 150 men, 40 pieces of heavy
equipment, and dozens of trucks at the problems in LA. In
Nevada, the narrow Caliente Canyon soaked up 200 men working
around the clock with 60 machines and seven work trains
hauling rock. Access roads had to be rebuilt before the
crews could get in to fix the track. The UP responded to
losing its northern and mid-west lines by placing an embargo
(a common carrier’s legal refusal to handle traffic) on the
Coast, San Joaquin, and Las Vegas lines.
Canyon Photo UPRR
Back at the docks in Long Beach
(specifically named in the embargo order), Chicago-bound
containers began piling up and UP’s congestion problems
soared. An accident of geography allowed competitor
Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to operate most of its
lines and some UP trains were able to detour.
As a result of these storms and a massive
snowfall in the Sierra (blocking UP’s mainline), there is
very limited long-distance Amtrak service. Those wishing to
take a train east have to go north to Seattle and then east
on the Empire Builder to Chicago. The direct San Francisco
train terminates in Denver until early February. Service
south from Oakland on the Coast Starlight is suspended until
further notice and the Seattle-LA train now terminates in
Emeryville. Alternate service south on the San Joaquin line
is handled by bus until early February, when the BNSF
completes a scheduled track repair program.
Danage Photo UPRR
A complicated conspiracy of scheduled
maintenance and the wrath of Mother Nature have put a whole
lot of bus in Amtrak’s services and served to offer the UP
yet another congestion headache.