Class I railroads brace for tropical storms Marco and Laura (UPDATED)

Marco is expected to make landfall later Monday, while Laura could hit on Wednesday

Updated to include the latest FreightWaves report about the storms, as well as to provide additional comment from CSX

Class I railroads with operations along the U.S. Gulf Coast are bracing for potential impacts from tropical storms Marco and Laura.

The timing of the storms’ approach to the Gulf Coast states is packing a one-two punch for area ports and transportation providers. Another concern is flooding as the storms travel northward. Marco made landfall Monday, but now the concern has focused onto Laura, which has been upgraded to a hurricane that will make landfall on Wednesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“While Marco is a weakening storm, flood gates in and around New Orleans have been closed, which affects traffic interchanging with eastern carriers,” BNSF (NYSE: BRK) said. “Due to these gate closures and flooding concerns, BNSF is holding all New Orleans-bound trains from moving into the area and re-routing traffic as needed.”

BNSF continued, “We have activated an around-the-clock command center, and our operating teams are in communication with other rail carriers as well as local, state and federal emergency personnel. Additional resources have been staged at various locations to quickly address any impacts to the network.”

Similar actions are being undertaken at the other Class Is, including Norfolk Southern (NYSE: NSC), which put out an operations update earlier Monday.

“Precautionary actions are being taken to protect infrastructure, and rail equipment is being repositioned away from low-lying areas around Mobile, Alabama, and New Orleans, Louisiana,” Norfolk Southern (NS) said, adding that customers with critical shipments should contact customer service. “Norfolk Southern is working with customers located in the forecasted regions to identify switching needs and with interchange partners to move certain shipments over alternate interchange gateways. Ongoing updates will be provided as this storm system progresses.”

NS also said that the New Orleans Flood Protection Authority will close the last floodgate Monday after closing other floodgates in and around New Orleans on Sunday. 

“Shipments destined to or traveling through New Orleans and Mobile will be impacted. At this time, we do not know the duration of the impact,” NS said. 

Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) also said it is monitoring the weather systems. The railroad said its intermodal terminal in Avondale, Louisiana, is closed until further notice. 

“Union Pacific is preparing rail operations as tropical storms Marco and Laura make their way toward the Gulf Coast. We are working closely with customers as we adjust train schedules and move equipment out of low-lying areas as needed,” UP said. “Personnel and materials are being staged in strategic locations, ensuring rail outages are addressed once the storms pass. Crews will be able to make repairs with quick access to generators, rock ballast stockpiles, supplemental fuel and other materials needed to rebuild track infrastructure.”

According to a Sunday operations note, the preparations that UP has taken ahead of the storm include staging generators at strategic locations; sending ballast trains to the area, with ballast stockpiles in place at strategic locations; adding fueling stations to supplement current fuel supplies; and adding and putting on standby crews and other supporting personnel.

Meanwhile, Kansas City Southern (NYSE: KSU) said the closure of the Port of Gulfport in Mississippi has affected Kansas City Southern’s (KCS) rail service in and out of the port, as well as its interchange with CSX (NASDAQ: CSX) at Gulfport.

“As always, the safety of our employees, customers’ shipments and the communities we serve remains the priority. We are closely monitoring the storms and will notify if there are any other changes to our network or service,” KCS said in a Monday operations update.

CSX said, “The most significant impact to the CSX network is expected to be in the New Orleans area. The CSX terminal in New Orleans has been evacuated and inbound traffic is being diverted to Pensacola, Florida. At this time, we anticipate being able to fully re-open this facility and resume operations by the end of the week. CSX local crews are working diligently to minimize any shipment delays.”

FreightWaves reported earlier Monday that the U.S. Coast Guard has temporarily closed ports in Louisiana, including the Port of New Orleans, the Port of South Louisiana and the Port of Baton Rouge. Vessels may not enter or move within these ports without permission of the captain of the port, and all ship-to-shore operations must cease until further notice.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.