The nation’s largest railroad is set to haul the harvest when Iowa farmers start bringing in their corn and soybeans. Mark Davis with the Union Pacific railroad says U-P is also working with disaster-relief officials right now.Once FEMA determines what kind of bulk materials it’ll need to move, the railroad has a round-the-clock dispatch center to work on the logistics. Davis explains that even when you’ve arranged to get a load from point A to point B, once it’s arrived you still have to figure out how to deliver it to where it’s needed. Union Pacific’s worked before with disasters, carrying supplies after earthquakes and other local emergencies. He says there are things you might expect — bulk fresh water, and clothing. But they might also need machinery and building materials, water purification equipment and anything specific to that area and their needs. “The list goes on and on but each one is different because it responds directly to what is needed in any given natural disaster.” While it’s tough getting in and out of many storm-ravaged gulf-coast towns, Davis says the trains can get most of the way there without trouble. Luckily, the UP tracks run through southern Louisiana along the west side of the Mississippi River, and most of the hurricane’s damage was done on the east side. Though they had to clear debris including fallen trees and powerlines, one critical link — the Huey P. Long Bridge over the Mississippi was inspected and found still good for traffic. East-west connections were delayed the most. Most trains that normally would go through the New Orleans Gateway were diverted to other tracks, farther north through towns like Memphis. Though it’s adding delays from 12 to 24-hours, the important thing, he says, is that the nation’s transportation network offered those options to get the trains through from the east to the west coast. Davis also says he doesn’t anticipate the railroad having any problems providing enough rail cars to haul the Iowa harvest when it starts coming in this fall.
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