UP halts work on Brazos hump yard, idles two others

Railroad will shift funding from massive Texas facility to new Sunset Route sidings, block-swapping yard

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Operating changes at Union Pacific will include shutting down the humps at two yards, and moving funding for the Brazos Yard to Sunset Route improvements.
Union Pacific

OMAHA, Neb. — Union Pacific has stopped building its new classification yard in Texas, idled the humps at yards in Oregon and Arkansas, and plans more yard rationalizations in the coming months as it switches freight cars fewer times under its new Precision Scheduled Railroading operating plan.

UP has paused construction at the $550 million Brazos Yard outside Hearne, Texas, for two reasons: Its switching capacity isn’t needed now but longer passing sidings are. The railroad had touted Brazos as its largest capital project in history, and as recently as March said it was still a vital yard that it might use differently than originally designed. [See "Union Pacific remains committed to new Texas hump yard, but may use it differently," Trains News Wire, March 6, 2019.]

“The remaining capital dollars planned for Brazos in 2019 will be reallocated to siding extensions on the Sunset Corridor and a block-swapping yard in Santa Teresa, which will add to our network flexibility,” Chief Operating Officer Jim Vena told investors and analysts on the railroad’s earnings call Thursday morning.

Santa Teresa, in New Mexico, is just west of El Paso, Texas, on the former Southern Pacific Sunset Corridor that links Southern California and Texas. UP will split and combine trains at Santa Teresa to increase train lengths west of El Paso.

Running longer trains — which reduces train starts and locomotive and crew requirements — is a key element of the Precision Scheduled Railroading operating model UP began implementing in October.

The Unified Plan 2020 also calls for a reduced emphasis on major terminals as cars are pre-blocked at origin and sent further into the network before being switched.

Vena emphasized that the hump shutdowns at Hinkle, Ore., and Pine Bluff, Ark., were the result of reduced switching volumes, not a desire to idle humps.

“I don’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I am going to shut down another hump yard,” Vena says.

Converting hump yards to flat-switching facilities is a byproduct of reducing car handlings en route and bypassing intermediate switching. It’s not a goal in and of itself, he says.

“There is nothing wrong with a hump yard. It’s the most efficient way to handle 1,800-2,000 cars a day,” Vena says. “There is nothing better. It’s low cost, it works well.”

But more yard closures or conversions to flat-switching are likely by the end of June as UP continues to fine-tune its operating plan, officials said.

Also among the targets: Consolidating UP’s network of intermodal terminals in the Chicago area.

UP executives did not provide a timetable for resuming work at Brazos Yard, which sits at the strategic junction of seven main lines. They also did not say whether the yard would be built as a hump yard or a flat-switching facility where trains would pause to swap blocks of traffic.

UP’s terminal rationalizations will contribute to the railroad’s plan to gain at least $500 million in productivity savings this year amid its shift to an operating plan based on PSR principles.


NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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