News & Reviews News Wire Beset by congestion, BNSF to limit carload traffic bound for California

Beset by congestion, BNSF to limit carload traffic bound for California

By Bill Stephens | June 24, 2022

| Last updated on February 26, 2024

Embargoes of certain commodities to run through end of July, railroad tells customers

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A westbound BNSF Railway merchandise train rolls through Cajon Pass in September 2021. Due to congestion, BNSF is limiting some types of carload traffic bound for California. Bill Stephens

FORT WORTH, Texas — BNSF Railway will limit carload traffic bound for California through the end of July as it struggles to overcome congestion related to crew shortages and bad weather along portions of its Southern Transcon.

The railroad made the permit embargo announcement in a Thursday advisory to customers. It will take effect on June 27 and run through July 31.

“This limited embargo will impact automotive shipments as well as specific agricultural and industrial commodities. Intermodal shipments, which are being managed through alternate means, are not covered by this embargo,” BNSF said in its advisory.

BNSF said it was confident the embargoes would help it resolve worsening congestion in Southern California.

“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,” the railroad said. “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.”

BNSF’s latest Surface Transportation Board update, filed on Wednesday, showed that 12% of the railroad’s road trains experienced unplanned recrews, double the normal rate of 5% to 6% when the railroad is running well.

But the recrew rate was much higher along the Southern Transcon, which across New Mexico, Arizona, and into Southern California carries more than 80 trains per day and is the busiest freight railroad in North America. BNSF recrewed 19.9% of its trains on the California Division and 22.5% on the neighboring Southwest Division.

The congestion spilled eastward to the Red River Division in Texas, where the recrew rate was 18% and the Kansas Division, where it was 16.6%.

Dwell at Barstow Yard in California was 56 hours, up from 44.6 in the week ending June 15. A year ago the dwell at Barstow was 29 hours.

The combination of heavy volume and bad weather “have affected our ability to effectively align resources with freight volumes, particularly the efficient utilization of train crews in the region,” BNSF said. “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.”

This embargo applies to all commodities shipped to destinations in California from the following states in the BNSF network: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas, as well as Eastern interchanges located in those states.

BNSF said it would consider issuing permits that would allow several commodities to continue to flow to California from June 29 through July 5. Among them: military, chemicals, fuels and energy products, and grain shipments.

Beginning July 6, those categories will be exempt from both the embargo and permits, along with petroleum products.

22 thoughts on “Beset by congestion, BNSF to limit carload traffic bound for California

  1. Oh man! What a great idea; that’s brilliant and will fix everything.
    Those sorry excuses for “managers” are now spewing that the unions are trying to disrupt rail service with a possible strike. I’d say they’ve done a good job of messing up the entire supply chain on their own.

  2. I thought bigger was supposed to be better as a rationale for creating BNSF and today’s Union Pacific. I guess it boils down to how one defines better and for whom. Something to think about with Canadian Pacific trying to acquire KCS.

  3. I recall the old complaint was that traffic to/from California was always imbalanced, with there being more outbound(Eastbound) freight than inbound(Westbound). This move by BNSF tells me that is no longer the case, and also points to the strength of the California economy…regardless of inflation.

  4. But wait. I thought we were heading for a recession. I thought carloads were down this year from last. How could there be congestion?

  5. It has gotten so bad, I had to park my N-scale BNSF freights to keep in tune with the correct operational movements with the real railroad. Talk about realism…..

    1. Sorry to hear that Steven. I’am in North Jersey and my early 60’s EL is running just fine.

  6. Corporate greed is everywhere now days. Look at the new normal of flight cancellations by the airlines trying to schedule pilots as close to the maxim allowable flight hours. Greed trickles down to smaller businesses too. Some of the excuses are to blame the pandemic.

  7. I’d say the politics are irrelevant to the problem. This is primarily a failure by senior management to provide the resources required to operate a successful business. It is management’s responsibility clearly indicate to Wall Street what is required. It is management’s responsibility to provide a work environment where employees can find a satisfying job that encourages them to join and stay.

    1. I would wish that all the CEO’s and BOD’s would come to a mutual agreement on how to run the continent’s railways so all of them, THEIR employees and even the investors could prosper. They provide a service we all need.
      It’s too bad one man could wield such influence over an industry to almost bring it to its knees all in the sake of greed.
      But I guess that’s not free enterprise.

    2. U talkin ‘bout Elmo? But, but, but, Railway Age not one but twice awarded him “Railroader of the Year”. I have great respect for that publication and I receive their weekday Rail Group News email blasts. Their Senior Editor is a good man and their regular columnists like David Peter Alan on passenger train issues and Jim Blaze on freight also offer excellent reads. But why they became so enamored of Hunter Harrison and seemingly pay no attention to how his policies and philosophy could soon get the industry in trouble is troubling.

    1. I think STB is awake. From what I can see, STB knows the problem and will do everything in its power to compel the railroads to fix it.

      DOT and POTUS are incapable of waking up. Not only that, the more they sleep the better off we are. As between Biden and Buttigieg, neither one is capable to water their house plants or turn on a light switch.

    2. Please get to Washington quick Sir Charles. Your the only hope for the railway industry with your expertise and non-sense quips. A true leader just waiting to make everything better than the professionals.

    3. the government is no solution POTUS clearly is in Alzheimer decline has no clue, the diversity versus qualified appointees no nothings are non-functional, independent truckers are champing at the bit to take any loads backhaul to pay for asrtronomical diesel fuel prices to get home. Intermodal by rail is in a nosedive and of course even though this started on Jan 20, 2020, it’s all because of Putin, dream on idiots….

    4. Give me a break Charles. This is a private railroad with its own infrastructure, own equipment or at least owns the locomotives to pull whatever freight cars that need to move the commitment on hand and above all has its own payroll to manage & move these trains. Yet you and your political band of brothers want to blame DOT and POTUS.
      Every time you comment in a meaningful and insightful way their is another trolling comment without any merit or basis of fact ….but hey these childish comments that Trains moderators seem to embrace about watering house plants and turning on a light switch makes you a superior and expert on the subject matter of train movements.

    5. Chucky collects Social Security, drives on public roads and rants against “Socialism” and “Big Government”.

  8. If railroads are going to remain viable in the years ahead, they need to increase capacity and forget their obsession with operating ratio until they return to pre-pandemic levels of service.

    1. It seems your parents, like mine, taught you that, “If you can’t say something nice…”. seems you’ve learned that lesson well.

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