WASHINGTON — Relations between rail shippers and Union Pacific railroad took a more contentious turn at a Surface Transportation Board hearing Dec. 3, and the board decided Dec. 4 to extend until March its emergency order opening parts of UP's network.
STB authorized the Texas Mexican Railway to accept traffic from Houston's port and belt railroads and allow shippers to switch UP service to Tex Mex.
At the Washington hearing, the plastics industry took a more strident tone and the railroad suggested that opponents are exaggerating problems to make political points.
Officials from both the plastics and chemical industries told the board that conditions are not improving much, and in some cases are worse, and they urged regulators to play a stronger role.
But Union Pacific Corp. Chairman Dick Davidson told STB that conditions are much better, and some opponents who portray it otherwise are really trying to convince regulators to open access to UP's network.
``I think that some of the rhetoric you hear here is spin,'' Davidson said. ``Some people want reregulation of the railroads. ... I think we've got a few customers who will never say it is better, because they are trying to relitigate the merger and get open access.''
UP merged with the Southern Pacific railroad last year, but proposals from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., the Texas Rail Commission and other railroads in effect would have STB rewrite the merger agreement, Davidson said.
Larry Thomas, president of Washington-based SPI, said STB must take a stronger role in forcing railroads to work together to solve the problems and strongly consider a proposal from the Texas Rail Commission for neutral switching in Houston.
``There must be a frank acknowledgement that the ultimate cause of this crisis is that virtually all of the rail infrastructure in Houston is now under the ownership and control of one railroad — the Union Pacific,'' Thomas said.
Michael Petruccelli, director of distribution and transportation of chemicals for Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries Inc., said car inventory on UP's network is 9 percent above base-line figures and train speed remains 29 percent below base line.
But UP said cars in its inventory are falling and trains held because of congestion are down to about 70 a day, from 500 at the peak of the problem.
STB Chairwoman Linda Morgan was critical of ``caustic comments'' by the railroads, which blamed each other rather than cooperating to resolve congestion.