Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Railroad Snarls in Southwest Cost Texas Businesses Big Bucks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Railroad Snarls in Southwest Cost Texas Businesses Big Bucks

Article excerpt

Call it the case of the missing plywood. More than $3 million dollars of lumber is missing somewhere between Seattle and Texas. Meanwhile, at least two Texas utility companies have had to raise prices because they can't get their coal delivered on time.

And in the tiny Texas panhandle town of Dumas, local farmers worry that for the second summer in a row, grain will pile up because they can't get it to market.

The culprit in all these problems: the congested rail lines of Union Pacific (UP) - the nation's largest railroad. Ever since last summer, when a mess of long service delays, fatal accidents, and overloaded rail lines began, businesspeople in Texas and all across the Southwest say they have lost money because of UP's bad service. By one estimate, Texas businesses alone have lost $1.1 billion since last summer, and losses continue to mount at the rate of $100 million a month. UP says it is doing all it can to sort out its problems, but time may be running out. Last week, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) - the federal agency that regulates the nation's railroads - indicated it may be ready to force UP to sell key rail lines and switching yards in Texas. It's a move that has been long advocated by officials here in Texas who say that the railroad has become too big, inefficient, and unsafe since it merged with Southern Pacific Rail Corporation in 1996. "What we have here is an unregulated monopoly that can do whatever they want to do," says David Swinford, marketing manager of the Dumas Co-op, a farmers cooperative that has lost $75,000 since last year due to freight costs and lost sales caused by the UP mess. Critics of UP say that since the merger, the company has been spread too thin, with not enough cars, employees, or equipment to cover the demands of today's booming economy. …

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