Freight transportation companies on the U.S. Gulf Coast are preparing for potential operational impacts brought on by Tropical Storm Cristobal.
The storm is expected to make landfall sometime early Sunday evening, June 7, although the Gulf Coast states might start experiencing tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains late tonight, June 6, according to a 4 p.m. CDT advisory by the National Hurricane Center. The times are subject to change. Residents should brace for potentially life-threatening storm surges at the mouth of the Mississippi River and to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, as well as in portions of southern and southeastern Louisiana, according to the advisory.
The Port of New Orleans (Port NOLA) said there are no planned closures yet at the Container Terminal, although some vessel schedules could be affected and operators have begun to make safety preparations, according to a June 6 update. The port-owned Florida Avenue Bridge is closed to vehicular traffic but open to rail and marine traffic as of 11 a.m. CDT, the port said. The port expects the heaviest rainfall and winds to occur overnight on Sunday and into Monday, June 8.
In anticipation of the approaching storm, the New Orleans Flood Protection Authority closed several of the floodgates in and around New Orleans early morning on Saturday, June 6 because of flood surges. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards directed the closure, according to several notices from freight railroads in the area.
Cristobal’s impact to rail operations
The Class I railroads, as well as short lines and operators such as the New Orleans Public Belt Railroad (NOPB), are bracing for potential operational impacts.
“Precautionary actions are being taken to protect infrastructure and rail equipment is being repositioned away from low-lying areas. Norfolk Southern is working with customers located in the forecasted region 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,” the railroad said.
Meanwhile, Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) said the closure of New Orleans’ flood gates “effectively prevents interchange with the eastern carriers until further notice,” according to a June 5 customer notice.
Union Pacific (UP) is preparing for the storm and potential outages through measures such as staging generators and ballast stockpiles at strategic locations, sending ballast trains to the area and ensuring that personnel supporting service outages are on standby, the railroad said.
For now though, all UP’s routes to the area remain open, with the exception of Livonia to New Orleans, UP said.