WASHINGTON — Plastics suppliers and customers in the Houston area might not believe it, but Union Pacific Railroad Co. officials say the company is improving delivery speeds as it attempts to recover from a massive traffic snarl that hit the region last year.
The updated numbers come shortly after industry officials and the railroad kicked off a joint effort to untangle rail congestion in the western United States.
UP's average train velocity nationwide was 15.1 mph on Jan. 23 after hitting a low of 12.7 mph Nov. 21. The rate measures travel times across the system, factoring in stops and switches. The railroad's goal is to reach the base-line velocity of 17.9 mph, which it had attained in January 1997, according to UP spokesman John Bromley.
But plastics and chemical industry officials say they have seen very little improvement in rail shipments, and Bromley conceded that rail terminals in Texas and Louisiana heavily used by plastic shippers remain ``clearly overwhelmed and over capacity.''
``Any improvement we have seen has been modest and very, very spotty at best,'' said Don Olsen, senior vice president for public affairs with Huntsman Corp. in Salt Lake City. ``It remains a very, very bad situation for us.''
Officials with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington and the Chemical Manufacturers Association in Arlington, Va., also said service has not improved since the fall, when UP began to implement its merger with the Southern Pacific railroad.
Both plastics officials and the railroad met Jan. 15 in Houston to start designing common ways to measure service quality—an outgrowth of government hearings late last year that saw UP and plastics officials give very different assessments of the situation.
SPI transportation issues director Maureen Healey was hopeful the task force will be helpful, but pessimistic that rail shipping will improve without more government intervention. SPI may ask the Surface Transportation Board to take more action, she said.
Bromley said the railroad does not know when service will return to normal, but that it will start directional running through Texas, Missouri and Arkansas in February. Gulf Coast traffic still is full of ``vexing problems,'' even as the rest of the railroad is doing better.