UPDATED 4:15 p.m. Aug. 28, 2017
By TOM MARSH/Cowcatcher Magazine
HOUSTON — Deteriorating conditions from Tropical Storm Harvey is causing major disruptions on the region’s rail lines three days after one of Texas’ most historic weather events blew ashore.
Widespread flooding in the greater Houston area forced the suspension of all of BNSF’s operations at Houston-area railyards and facilities, including the Pearland Intermodal and Automotive facilities, according to a service advisory posted today. Some locations have received nearly 40 inches of rain and several more inches are expected during the next 48 hours.
BNSF reported multiple washouts and high water on main lines in and around Houston, halting inbound and outbound traffic. Other area rail lines, including those with BNSF trackage rights, have also been forced out of service, the carrier said.
“Portions of major interstate highways in the Houston area remain closed and officials continue to urge residents to stay off local roadways,” the advisory said. “Our 24/7 Command Center remains in frequent communication with local, state and federal emergency personnel to evaluate conditions and determine when operations can safely resume.”
BNSF plans to conduct an aerial assessment today, weather permitting, to determine the extent of damage and flooding. Train flows are not expected to resume “for an extended period” and customers should expect continued delays of shipments scheduled to move through the area, the company said.
Hurricane Harvey roared ashore on the Texas Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm late Friday, bringing 130-mph winds and dumping unprecedented rain totals.
BNSF Railway, Kansas City Southern and Union Pacific began preparing for the storm earlier in the week, according to service advisories. Railroad activity was at a halt by Sunday along the southeast Texas coast. One of the most powerful hurricanes to hit Texas in years, Harvey’s destruction has been widespread, especially in Rockport near Corpus Christi, and in Houston. Rain is expected to deluge the Texas coast into the week.
BNSF shut down operations in Galveston on Thursday, holding trains destined for the island at various locations to the north. BNSF also moved cars, including some from the Galveston Railroad Museum, away from low-lying coastal areas.
The railroad established a 24/7 command center and pre-positioned crews, materials and equipment for quick response to washouts and other storm-related damage.
BNSF officials initially said the company would take steps to maintain operations in the Houston area through the weekend, specifically citing its Pearland intermodal and auto facilities. However, flooding prevented road access to the intermodal hub and operations ceased on Sunday.
KCS suspended operations between Kendleton, TX, southwest of Houston, to Laredo at midnight Thursday. The following day, KCS enacted force majeure and placed an embargo on all northbound and southbound cross-border traffic via Laredo. The embargo encompasses most origin carriers connecting with KCS, including Norfolk Southern, CN, CSX, CP, UP, BNSF and associated short lines with traffic destined to Houston and points south.
Depending on how events play out, KCS may embargo traffic destined for points east of Houston, including Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, and Lake Charles and Leesville, LA.
UP began moving cars from flood-prone yards Thursday. In addition, the railroad said it would curtail operations from Brownsville to Beaumont and beyond as necessary to protect employees and equipment.
The company annulled all trains for today and Monday, and said embargoes will be issued on all traffic destined to Houston and surrounding areas. Switching operations in the area are shut down until further notice.
On Saturday, Houston METRO suspended all service, including METRORail, until further notice.
Amtrak train No. 2, the eastbound Sunset Limited, was terminated at El Paso on Friday, becoming westbound No. 1 departing El Paso today. Also, Texas Eagle service was suspended between Fort Worth and San Antonio beginning Friday. Amtrak service suspensions will continue until further notice.