How UP Employees Keep Freight Moving During Wildfires

Every West Coast subdivision has been impacted, according to UP, with train reroutes and crew diversions fluctuating to meet network demands.

UP Corporate Communications provided the following highlights of how railroad employees have stepped up:

• Harriman Dispatching Center (HDC): Twice daily, HDC hosted online screen-sharing chats via Microsoft Teams to allow HDC, Crew Management Services, Customer Care and Support, Network Planning and Operations, Engineering, and Mechanical “to create a clear ‘working document’ transportation plan, ensuring cohesive planning, decision-making and execution,” UP reported.

To monitor fires, HDC used data from CalFire and Geographic Area Coordination Center, for example, as well as UP mapping and real-time train movement tools.


“The HDC is designed, staffed and trained for situations just like this,” HDC Director Andrew Sanders said. “We activated a special hours-of-service desk in CMS [Crew Management Services] to share the workload, but overall, HDC’s internal operations were not impacted: We shined.”

• Customer Care and Support: Staffers worked to inform internal and external stakeholders of wildfire outages, bridge reconstruction progress and reroutes. They provided daily updates to Marketing and Sales employees and collaborated with the Customer Communications team to distribute customer-based talking points and send weekly customer news announcements.

“The reroutes tightened up a number of crew bases and added congestion,” explained Doug Svatos, Senior Director-Northern Region, Customer Care and Support. “Our team worked closely with the field, HDC and CMS [Crew Management Services] to prioritize cars on through freight trains and escalate customer cases on yard and local jobs. The inter-team communication helped everyone understand the urgency for each customer.”

The first train rolled across the repaired Dry Canyon bridge in early August. It was damaged in June during the Lava Fire. (UP)

• Train, Engine and Yard; Crew Management Services; and Labor Relations: Train, Engine and Yard crew members borrowed out on the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest service units, according to UP.

“Crew Management Services and Labor Relations worked with the union organizations to ensure we had temporary agreements in place to reallocate crews to open routes so they could continue working and have crews available to work when we opened,” said Abby Zach, Superintendent-Train Operations, Transportation, Northern California Service Unit.

Agreement employees from St. Louis, Mo.; Fort Worth, Tex.; South Morrill, Neb.; Chicago, Ill.; and Little Rock, Ark., headed to Hinkle and La Grande, Ore.; Nampa and Pocatello, Idaho; and Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Our train crews from Dunsmuir, Calif., really stepped up, gaining certification to cover the BNSF detour and temporarily relocating to Klamath Falls, Ore.,” said Kim Fossland, Director-Crew Management Services.

UP also relied on Rail Relief, its volunteer program for non-agreement employees, when more help was required. Several Union Pacific Center employees drove crew vans to reallocate crews, for example, according to the Class I railroad.

• Industrial Hygiene: While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has smoke detecting monitors across the country, few are located near UP yards, according to the railroad. That’s why UP’s Industrial Hygiene team uses TSI DustTrak Environmental Monitors to measure air quality at UP’s yards in Roseville, West Colton, Commerce, Oroville and Delores, Calif.

A TSI DustTrak Environmental Monitor mounted on a pole at the Dolores (Calif.) Locomotive Shop. (UP)

“This equipment allows employees access to the most up-to-date information,” said Will Walsh, Manager-Industrial Hygiene, Workforce Resources. “Employees can log in remotely to see real-time California data. We no longer need to physically send Industrial Hygiene Consultants to measure smoke levels.”

For information on how UP employees battled the Lava Fire in June, see “UP: Fire Car Fleet Provided Critical Assist in Lava Fire.”

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