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Latest Winter Storm Disrupting Some Freight
Friday, 08 January 2010 00:00
Rail, river, road transportation affected across broad area of U.S.

The latest in a series of strong winter storms is disrupting all forms of surface freight transportation, as rivers and rail switches ice up and some Interstate highways have closed at times from heavy snow and ice buildup.

BNSF Railway told customers on Jan. 7 that its service “is being impacted by extreme cold and winter weather conditions across the Central and Northern Regions, which includes Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, North and South Dakota. The extreme cold is resulting in slow operating conditions.

Farm product markets say spot prices of soybeans and other commodities are being pushed higher as periodic ice jams and other icing conditions on the Illinois River have slowed movement of grain barge tows.

Although a Coast Guard official said no problems were being reported as of mid-morning Jan. 8 at St Louis, local news reports say the ice slowed nearby movement of Mississippi River tows through a major lock in the past week. 

And that is just the latest round, as the Coast Guard official said a towboat and its barges had briefly gotten trapped in ice farther up the Mississippi a couple of weeks ago.

This week’s storm briefly shut down some Midwest airport runways and canceled or delayed flights. A section of Interstate 90 remained closed Jan. 8 in southwestern Minnesota, as the state department of transportation warned about “dangerous driving conditions.”

The impact was not just in the Rocky Mountains and Midwest, either. Norfolk Southern Railway recently got its Lamberts Point coal ship-loading terminal in Norfolk, Va., back to normal operation after a major December storm interruption that was followed by mechanical problems for its conveyor belts.

But with no letup in icy temperatures, the coal now arriving from Appalachian mines reportedly has to be thawed before it can be blended and loaded, slowing that facility.

Similarly, the ongoing deep freeze can cause problems to worsen by the day along the inland waterways, as ice buildup clogs shore facilities to make it harder to handle cargo or even maneuver barges around docks. And if it builds a major ice jam in one of the river channels, it could trap some cargoes for days or even weeks.

The Journal of Commerce Online, 1/8/2010