WASHINGTON — The largest chicken producer in the western U.S. has asked federal regulators to issue an emergency service order that would direct Union Pacific to prioritize corn shipments that thousands of dairy cattle and millions of chickens and turkeys depend upon.
”The point has been reached when millions of chickens will be killed and other livestock will suffer because of UP’s service failures,” Foster Farms wrote in its request to the Surface Transportation Board this week.
Foster Farms’ facilities in Traver and Turlock, Calif., rely on 100-car unit trains of corn that originate in the Midwest. The company produces feed from the corn, which is then distributed to dairy farms, Foster’s chicken and turkey farms, and other poultry producers.
“These service failures, which began in February 2022, have resulted in numerous instances where Foster Farms has suspended its production and distribution of feed for tens of thousands of dairy cattle and tens of millions of chickens and turkeys which consume corn meal supplied by Foster Farms,” the company told the STB. “It has also resulted in Foster Farms incurring considerable costs in an increasingly desperate and futile attempt to try to find alternative means and transportation modes to obtain and ship the huge quantities corn its facilities must have each week that UP delivered in the past with reasonable regularity but has demonstrated, without any doubt, that it can no longer do so for the indefinite future under its current operating plans and priorities.”
Foster Farms asked the STB to direct UP to prioritize delivery of unit trains to its California facilities for at least the next 30 days. Foster Farms leases four unit trains from UP as part of the railroad’s grain shuttle program.
It wants the board to prioritize the assignment of crews to its trains, as well as their movement across the system so that crews don’t run afoul of hours of service regulations. It also asked the board to direct UP to provide sufficient locomotives to the trains and for UP to provide the board with daily status reports.
UP agrees that it has not lived up to its service commitments to Foster Farms, but requested that the STB deny the emergency service petition. Instead, UP asked the STB to accept several service commitments.
Among them: Adding a fifth train set to Foster Farms service until volume commitments are reached; prioritizing unit trains, crews, and locomotives bound to and from Foster Farms; and providing the STB with daily updates and participating in weekly meetings with the STB regarding service to Foster Farms.
“Foster Farms is a vitally important Union Pacific customer. However, we have failed to provide adequate service to Foster Farms,” UP CEO Lance Fritz wrote in a June 16 letter to the board. “I am writing to convey Union Pacific’s firm and clear commitment to providing Foster Farms the service it deserves and the service we expect to provide. I am personally working directly with Foster Farms’ leadership to understand their concerns and meet their needs.”
UP has made several adjustments that should improve service to Foster Farms, Bradley Moore, vice president of customer care and support, told the board. The railroad has moved crews to Roseville, Calif., from other locations on the system, has been leaving power with Foster Farms’ unit trains, and has decreased unit train dwell at North Platte, Neb.
In addition, 34 new conductors will enter service at Roseville by Aug. 15.
Like the other big U.S.-based Class I railroads, UP service has suffered this year amid a shortage of train crews at key points on its system.