There is a labor shortage crisis in the U.S., and in at least two sectors of the rail industry—short line and crossties—the search for workers has become frustrating. The nationwide problem also has seeped into Class 1 operations.
Railway Track & Structures magazine (RT&S) had the opportunity to interview Union Pacific Chairman, President, and CEO Lance Fritz at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) annual meeting in Phoenix. Fritz said the combination of a worker “tightness” and COVID-19 have impacted the comfort level.
“There have been some challenges, for sure,” he told RT&S. “There is a real tightness in some parts of the market like diesel mechanics and diesel electricians. In some spots we are also tight on conductors and engineers, and in our office environment we are tight on data analytics workers, machine learning engineers, etc.
“I would not say the labor shortage has created any significant negative consequences for us. I would say when you combine tight with the COVID impact and availability is causing us problems periodically around the network. It had been concentrated in the southwest part of our network in the fourth quarter last year and that looks like it has healed up largely, and now I’m concerned about the Great Plains part of our network, basically from Chicago west into North Platte and south into Kansas City.
“It’s really about us not doing an adequate job of forecasting what the impacts of COVID would be at this moment when we were making our hiring plans and executing them through last year. We have accelerated all of that and I think we are going to be OK, but it’s tighter than I’d like it to be.”
During the interview, Fritz also talked about capital spending and some of the larger infrastructure projects currently under way for Union Pacific. Look for the complete interview in a Rail Group On Air podcast in the coming weeks.