Railroads Start Storm Recovery

Railroads Start Storm Recovery

The two major eastern-U.S. railroads – CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern Railway – were starting to dig out late on Feb. 10 and on Feb. 11 from a midweek blizzard that struck much of their territory.

Although plow-equipped rail equipment can push snow off tracks much faster than cities can clear their roads, the effects of a second powerful snowstorm in a week were likely to hold back rail yards and inter-city train traffic for days to come from reaching normal levels.

During the worst of the Feb. 10 blizzard, not only were track switches freezing up and roads too clogged to move track and yard crews to and from work, but blinding whiteout conditions and snow drifts hindered on-board train crews from seeing wayside signal lights that guide them on how to use the tracks ahead.

Norfolk Southern stopped moving coal trains into Baltimore, as officials opted to use that line only for high-priority intermodal trains, said spokesman Robin Chapman. The blizzard also shut off the Delmarva Peninsula from NS traffic, he said, and slowed operations east of Harrisburg, Pa.

Meanwhile, in many areas NS had to post extra staff to keep key track switches clear, increase the spacing between trains that were still moving and reducing the total that could transit the storm zone until conditions improved.

CSX spokesman Robert Sullivan said the storm affected its movements across mid-Atlantic states and New England.

CSX said service was hampered “by the heavy snow, downed trees and power lines.” In addition, “many roads across the region are closed or impassable,” CSX said late on Feb. 10.

Those and other railroads were communicating with customers about routes and service. Many cities in the region closed most government operations and urged businesses and residents to avoid road use until at least highways and major local roads could be cleared. That has made local deliveries and pickups difficult for some freight operations.

Power outages can knock out rail signals, including those at roadway crossings used by passenger vehicles, while the clogged roads make it harder for rail lines to deploy backup power units. So getting local roads cleared and power restored across the region is important to restoring normal train operations as well.

Contact John D. Boyd at jboyd@joc.com.