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Storms Slamming Surface Transport
Monday, 08 February 2010 00:00
Norfolk Southern invokes force majeure, warns of rail delays

Three days after a massive winter storm struck the mid-Atlantic region, freight transportation systems were still trying to recover to normal operating levels.

Norfolk Southern Railway declared force majeure in effect starting Feb. 6, a statement that invokes forces outside its control to lift its delivery or other service guarantees. NS had also used force majeure after a huge storm struck its main operating area in the week before Christmas.

The states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia all had significant snowfalls starting Feb. 5 that left two or three feet of snow in many areas. Those states spent most of the weekend digging out interstate highways and other major arteries.

Long-haul trucking operations began moving slowly on Feb. 7, but with numerous regular roads still covered in ice and snow the access to local delivery docks remained a problem as the regular workweek began.

Airports had to cancel a number of weekend flights as well. The federal government and numerous businesses around Washington, D.C., remained closed on Feb. 8.

NS said the storms affected “operations in critical traffic areas in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.” It cited traffic problems in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey and the Carolinas, and said customers “should expect delays of at least 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, the nation’s largest rail hub, Chicago, was bracing for a new storm that could hit that area with a foot of snow starting the afternoon of Feb. 8 and continuing into the next day. For the East, that same storm front was expected to move into the region on Tuesday afternoon, dumping more snow on roads and tracks.

When such winter storms hit a railway, the company can push plow-equipped locomotives to clear its tracks. However, local access road conditions can hinder rail workers getting to and from their jobs, icing can freeze up track switches and complicate building railcars into train sets and can clog key open-topped cargoes such as coal and rock to slow their loading and unloading.

The Journal of Commerce Online, 2/8/2010