UP customer: Precision Scheduled Railroading-like plan threatens California water supply

Water chemical company applied to the Surface Transportation Board for emergency orders requiring five-day a week service
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WASHINGTON — Federal regulators have ordered Union Pacific to restore and maintain five-day per week service to a company that provides water-treatment chemicals to municipalities throughout Southern California.

Hasa, which makes and distributes water sanitation chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite and hydrochloric acid, last week sought an emergency service order from the Surface Transportation Board after UP said it would reduce switching to the company’s plant in Saugus, Calif., to three days per week, effective Monday.

The reduced service, Hasa claims, would lead to product shortages that ultimately would threaten supplies of safe water to nearly 24 million people in Southern California.

“After over 50 years of providing reliable, consistent service to a longstanding customer, UP has chosen to abruptly cease its required daily scheduled service, without warning or notice, during a time of peak need for Hasa’s chlorine-based products used to provide clean, safe, and clear water to the millions of people in Southern California,” Hasa said in requesting the emergency order. “In addition to devastating Hasa commercially, UP’s reduction in service endangers water safety and public health in Southern California.”

The proposed service reduction is related to Union Pacific’s shift to an operating plan based on the principles of Precision Scheduled Railroading, Hasa says.

The Unified Plan 2020 is supposed to produce service that’s faster and more reliable. And UP officials have promised to communicate service changes to customers well in advance.

“The grim reality of the UP’s new service plan for Hasa is, unfortunately, significantly reduced and more erratic service, curtailed availability of crews and locomotives, increased car dwell, including that of hazardous commodities that are not allowed to be detained on the railroad system under governing safety rules, a dramatic reduction in the movement of railcars in favor of periodic train service, and a complete lack of prior notice, communications, or cooperation over proposed service changes,” Hasa wrote to the board.

Hasa sought the emergency service order after efforts to work with UP through the board’s office of rail customer assistance failed.

The chemical company also accuses UP of trying to relieve itself of its common carrier obligations, including the handling of hazardous materials such as chlorine.

Union Pacific says Hasa’s filings are misleading.

“UP understands why the board took this extraordinary step, given the one-sided record before it,” the railroad’s lawyers wrote in an Aug. 23 regulatory filing. “UP will respond in full to Hasa’s filing on the schedule set forth by the board. That response will show that Hasa has seriously misstated the facts and the law. UP is confident that, once the board has all the true facts and relevant law before it, it will deny the extraordinary relief Hasa sought — and temporarily obtained — from the board.”

Hasa’s filing is available online.

The board’s decision is available here.

And UP’s response is available here.

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