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UP’s tracks are snarled, but Tennessee Pass remains closed

Brief by Central Staff

Transportation – January 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

UPRR’s tracks are snarled, but Tennessee Pass stays closed

An occasional work train, picking up scrap, is about the size of rail service on the Royal Gorge Route these days.

But the trains aren’t moving all that well anywhere on the 35,000-mile Union Pacific system these days, even on routes it hasn’t closed.

The jams are worst in the Houston area, where chemical producers say they’re losing $60 million a month (or $720 million a year) on account of bad UP service after its merger with the Southern Pacific (which was supposed to save shippers $750 million a year, and perhaps it does but at whose expense?).

Farmers on the Great Plains say their crops are rotting on the ground because the UP hasn’t brought empty cars to their elevators, ports on the West Coast are clogged with goods that the UP can’t haul away, utilities are running out of coal to generate electricity, and some coal mines curtailing production because UP hasn’t been able to haul their coal.

In October, the federal Surface Transportation Board, which approved the merger in 1996, issued emergency orders. Some traffic was shifted to other lines and shippers were allowed to use other lines even if they had contracts with UP.

UP promised that service would be back to normal by the end of November, but when the STB held a hearing on Dec. 3, many witnesses testified that UP’s service had not improved, and might even be worse.

So the STB extended the emergency order for another 240 days. However, that doesn’t open Tennessee Pass, where the rails rust even as UP faces bottlenecks all over its system.