June 29, 2022 - TRA Newswire -

Too many carloads and not enough rail workers. That's the case across Texas and the rest of the nation as Class 1's and some short lines struggle to fill positions after cutting thousands of positions even before the pandemic struck in 2020 and dealt a blow to rail freight movements. Rail employment is down 20% since January 2019 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In addition to the ongoing railway worker shortage weather events, derailments, speed restrictions and having equipment in the wrong place at the wrong time has plagued railroads.

Traffic has gotten so congested that BNSF Railway has issued a limited temporary embargo affecting westbound shipments from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and and 9 other states toward California until July 31st. 

In an online statement BNSF said "We have experienced a sharp increase in congestion throughout Southern California during the past few weeks due to several high wind events concurrent with the high levels of traffic seeking to move through the region. In addition, flash flooding from monsoonal rains caused a service outage earlier this week on a portion of our Southern Transcon near Laguna, New Mexico, approximately 70 miles west of Belen. Both main tracks at this location were out of service for several hours. Temporary speed restrictions were implemented while crews restored and inspected affected track, which resulted in additional congestion and reduced fluidity on the Transcon.

"The resulting impacts have affected our ability to effectively align resources with freight volumes, particularly the efficient utilization of train crews in the region", according to the BNSF statement. "While this embargo action will lead to some additional disruption to our affected customers in the short term, we are confident that this aggressive measure will provide the additional capacity needed to recover velocity and improve cycle times more quickly, as well as assist with resource availability."

BNSF plans to hire about 1,000 additional train, yard and engine employees by the end of 2022 while Union Pacific Railroad, also on a hiring blitz, said that it has already brought on about half of the 1,400 new employees needed this year. 

Many commodity segments are reporting fewer trains arriving on time or cancelled because of the lack of train crews. The National Coal Transportation Association reported at an April conference that 92% of its members had their business impacted by rail service shortfalls. Grain shipment backlogs continue to plague western railroads while rail logistic issues prompted Surface Transportation Chairman Martin Oberman to declare that "we are in the middle of a rail service crisis and the Board continues to receive reports about persistent, acute and dramatic problems in rail transportation." Oberman said that critical supply chains are being disrupted and companies have had to shut down because of inadequate rail service. 

Photo credit: BNSF Railway