Louisiana floods delay truck, intermodal rail freight

Louisiana floods delay truck, intermodal rail freight

A section of I-12 lies flooded and abandoned in Louisiana as severe flooding impacted the movement of goods on the Gulf Coast for the third time this year.

Shippers moving intermodal rail and truckload shipments through southeastern Louisiana are grappling with shipment delays as severe flooding slows the rail and road network in the region for the third time this year.

Louisiana is under a state of emergency after heavy rainfall inundated the region Friday. Floodwaters have killed at least seven people and stranded thousands in and around the capital of Baton Rouge.

The crisis has challenged the transportation sector in the region, which is served from the north by Kansas City Southern Railway and from the west by BNSF Railway and Union Pacific Railroad.

The over-the-road sector, though, has been hit the hardest. The floodwaters have damaged multiple truck terminals in the area and made it difficult, if not impossible, for drivers and other industry workers to leave their homes, much less go to work. And even if drivers can reach terminals and hubs, floodwaters have taken out roadways, limiting where and how far they can travel.

“We take each day on a day-by-day basis depending on the severity of the flooding, the weather, getting into the facility and seeing what kind of damage has occurred,” Jeannie Jump, a spokeswoman for less-than-truckload carrier Saia, told JOC.com Monday.

Jump said that Saia was forced to close its Baton Rouge facility because of severe flooding and has only been able to offer limited operations at its facility in Lafayette since last week.

Jump could not say the extent of the damage to infrastructure, equipment or customers’ freight that has occurred at Saia’s Louisiana terminals, but did say that the carrier has initiated contingency plans to keep cargo in the area safe and reroute cargo that would have been traveling through the region.

“You really can’t get folks out to look,” Jump said. “But, we do have policies and procedures in place to safeguard and get it to a secure location out of the way. We’ll move it to another terminal, we’ll stop freight from coming in.”

BNSF has not posted any advisories online regarding service in the region and, according to KCS and UP, the flooding has not taken out any of their main lines or infrastructure.

KCS spokeswoman Doniele Carlson said service may nevertheless be impacted as local industry trains in the Baton Rouge area were affected over the weekend.

Moreover, “KCS is warning customers that service in the region may slow as railway employees are forced to deal with the state of emergency,” Carlson said.

UP spokesman Aaron Hunt said much of the same: "Our track structure was not affected, but we have experienced minor delays in areas where employees are unable to report to work due to flooding."

Jump said Saia’s working operations outside of Baton Rouge are also facing a similar shortage of hands on deck, but those sorts of allowances must be made during the state of emergency.

“We just want to make sure our employees and their families are safe. They’re our biggest priority,” said Jump.

This is the third time this year that severe flooding has hit the Gulf Coast. Twice before, in March and June, torrential rain and dangerously high floodwaters forced KCS to declare force majeure and suspend service on main lines in the region.

Contact Reynolds Hutchins at reynolds.hutchins@ihs.com and follow him on Twitter: @Hutchins_JOC.