Winter weather wallops Class 1 roads – Updated with perspectives from CN & CP; New update from CSX

Written by David C. Lester, Managing Editor
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The nation’s Class 1 railroads have been walloped by this week’s winter storms.
Courtesy of Norfolk Southern

North America is experiencing a severe winter storm, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.

Arctic air is pouring into most of the lower 48 states, extending as far south as Texas and even Mexico. While snow and ice have made it difficult to get trains over the road, the real culprit of this storm is the bitterly cold temperatures in areas that are not used to this type of weather.

For example, most of Texas is in the grip of sub-zero temperatures, and the energy infrastructure in the state is simply not designed to withstand them. The demand for electricity during the storm has skyrocketed, wreaking havoc with the electric grid in Texas, which is essentially separate from the rest of the nation’s electric grid. Wind power, which makes up for a relatively small amount of electricity production, was knocked off line because the windmills were frozen solid. Windmills can operate very well in the wintertime, but since Texas is a warm/hot state for most of the year, little thought had been given to “winterizing” the windmills as is done in northern states of the Midwest. Natural gas delivery has been hampered by supply shortages.

While the weather has been especially severe in Texas, other parts of the country are dealing with the storm, too. The majority of the country is experiencing low temperatures below zero or between 0 and 32 degrees.

RT&S did a quick survey of how the nation’s Class 1s are handling the weather. We were able to obtain some information from all of the Class 1s, and here is what’s going on:

Ed. Note: Today, we received updates from both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railroads regarding the impact of winter weather on their networks. We’ve added their comments below. DCL

Canadian National

CN has the most northern rail network in North American and winters are known to be harsh. That is why we diligently prepare our annual Winter Plan well in advance of the cold weather. Our plan includes implementing specific measures to counteract the difficult operating conditions that inevitably arise when extreme temperatures occur, including the effects of cold on railway braking systems. Again this year, we are applying our learnings and experience from past winters. Our ability to perform in these challenging times is largely a result of the record-high strategic capital investments we have made in locomotives, track infrastructure and specialized distributed air cars. It is also a direct result of our resourceful team of railroaders who put safety above all else and continue to operate our railway in these very challenging circumstances in order to serve our customers. We are monitoring the current polar vortex closely and are hopeful that these conditions will abate over the next week so we can recover quickly and return to our normal level of network fluidity.

Canadian Pacific

On Tuesday of this week, Canadian Pacific President and Chief Executive Officer, Keith Creel, addressed the Barclays Industrial Select Conference. In his opening remarks, he discussed the challenges CP has faced from the weather, and was encouraged that the weather had broken at that point, and they were able to run long trains on 90 percent of their network. Creel added that while the weather was bad, it doesn’t change the company’s outlook for Full-Year 2021. He also noted that the rest of the network will be out of the deep freeze in 48 to 72 hours (which is now either today or tomorrow), and the railroad expects to have its rhythm back within the next week.

Norfolk Southern

Norfolk Southern continues to work through the recent winter storms impacting the majority of our network. Norfolk Southern is working with our customers and channel partners as heavy snow and ice has impacted the Northern and Central portions of our network. Customers with traffic moving through these areas should expect 24-48 hours delay.

Union Pacific

Extreme winter weather has had a disproportionate impact on our network over the past 72 to 96 hours and is expected to continue for the next 48 hours. In the South and across the eastern portion of our system, another winter storm is expected to bring more snow and ice starting this afternoon. The unprecedented weather issues over the past few days are impacting our network as follows:

  • Currently we have more than 400 locations across our network that are without power.
  • Over 20% of active trains are holding for at least four hours as a result of the weather.
  • Over 90% of our primary parking is currently occupied at our intermodal terminals in Illinois.

Our Operating team is well prepared to respond to these weather emergencies and have successfully handled extreme weather events in the past. We are taking lessons learned from how we responded to the historic flooding two years ago as we work through this polar vortex challenge. Equipment for our intermodal network is closely aligned with containers and chassis across the system. While not every ramp is directly impacted by severe weather, by closing intermodal terminals systemwide, we are avoiding an imbalance of equipment across the network. This will result in a quicker recovery of operations.

We remain focused on delivering your freight as quickly as possible. Last week, we activated our 24-hour command center to assist in restoring service safely under these adverse weather conditions. Equipment, resources and crews are positioned throughout our network to help with the recovery. We are working closely with our intermodal customers to move their containers out of the terminals and improve fluidity to our ramps.

BNSF

BNSF continues to confront a broad range of major service challenges resulting from extreme winter weather. The record cold temperatures and significant snow that have been experienced across our North Region and stretching deep into Texas and parts of the Gulf Coast have significantly impacted network operations. In Texas, many trains are currently holding due to widespread power outages and road closures that have affected our ability to move train crews and other personnel.

Due to the harsh weather and power outages in the Fort Worth area, callers to BNSF Customer Support are experiencing long wait times. If you are an affected customer in need of assistance, please utilize the Message Us feature on the BNSF Customer Portal (must be registered/logged in to access).

Winter storm warnings will take effect again this evening across much of Texas and Oklahoma as the next storm moves through the region. Significant ice and snow is expected in some areas, including parts of north Texas. Customers with shipments designated to move through the region should expect continued delays until conditions improve later this week.

We appreciate your patience as we address this very challenging environment. As always, BNSF teams throughout the organization are working around the clock to restore normal operations as quickly as possible.

We will continue to provide further updates.

Kansas City Southern

Yesterday we notified you that we were experiencing a temporary outage of MyKCS and EDI messaging. We are pleased to announce that has been corrected and all is operational.

Due to unprecedented cold in northern Mexico, the power grid experienced excessive demand resulting in a power outage in northern Mexico.  We have been informed by the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) that the power is back on. 

Because many businesses are still without power and internet, we are experiencing a large increase in call volume to our Customer Solutions team for assistance so response times may be longer than normal.  We thank you in advance for your patience.  

CSX

CSX released another update on the status of the winter storm’s impact on it’s system on 02.18.20 (Thursday):

CSX is working diligently to minimize operational impacts of the winter storm moving across the Eastern United States. Snow, ice and freezing conditions may cause delays in areas extending from the South to the Northeast. We will continue to monitor conditions and issue additional updates as warranted.

All Intermodal terminals are open and operational with weather-related regional delays. Intermodal customers are encouraged to monitor updated Estimated Time of Notification (ETN) in ShipCSX and EDI messaging for updates on freight availability and to pick up shipments in a timely manner, as safety permits, to maintain terminal fluidity.

TRANSFLO terminals that are currently impacted include:

  • Nashville, Tenn. – Closed
  • Raleigh, N.C. – Experiencing delays
  • Richmond, Va. – Closed
  • Wilmington, Del. – Closed
  • Baltimore, Md. – Closed
  • Elizabeth, N.J. – Closing early
  • Philadelphia, Pa. – Closing early

Please continue to monitor Customer Advisories and Intermodal-specific Real-Time Service Advisories for any operational actions that may become necessary, and notify your CSX contact of any site closures or changes in local service needs resulting from the storm.

The CSX Customer Solutions team is available to provide details and answer questions regarding shipments. Call the Customer Solutions team at 1-877-ShipCSX (1-877-744-7279) . For Carload assistance choose option 2 from the sub-menu and then 1, 5 to speak with a representative. For Intermodal assistance, choose 2 from the sub menu and then 2, 2 to speak with a representative. You may also submit a Shipment Problem Resolution request via www.shipcsx.com.

CSX is advising customers to expect delays on shipments moving through the Ohio Valley and Midwest, as a winter storm tracks across a large portion of the central United States toward the Northeast. The CSX team has resources in position and is ready to resolve any delays that may occur as quickly as possible.

Intermodal terminals are open and traffic is moving with only minor slowdowns as a safety precaution at this time. TRANSFLO terminals are idle for the President’s Day holiday and are expected to resume operations on schedule tomorrow (Tuesday).

Updates will be provided as conditions warrant. Please monitor the CSX Customer Advisories and Intermodal-specific Real-Time Service Advisories for any operational actions that may become necessary, and notify your CSX contact of any site closures or changes in local service needs resulting from the storm.

The CSX Customer Solutions team is available to provide details and answer questions regarding shipments. Call the Customer Solutions team at 1-877-ShipCSX (1-877-744-7279). For Carload assistance choose option 2 from the sub-menu and then 1, 5 to speak with a representative. For Intermodal assistance, choose 2 from the sub menu and then 2, 2 to speak with a representative. You may also submit a Shipment Problem Resolution request via www.shipcsx.com.

 

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