ON JULY 31 the Surface Transportation Board released Union Pacific from the emergency order it had imposed on October 31. Admitting that UP has still not restored normal service on all routes, the STB said that it could not force the railway to continue assigning business to other carriers who were allowed to use its tracks. The ruling stated ’the service emergency in Houston is over, and there is thus no legal basis for issuing a further emergency service order.’ A 45-day transition period has been set.
But four days earlier Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater had said ’our opinion and our recommendation would be to extend the order.’ Shippers also wanted the STB to continue its unprecedented intense supervision beyond the August 2 expiry date, citing continued congestion at Californian ports and UP’s own admission that trains are running more slowly than a year ago. They fear that the build-up of traffic in the autumn could lead to a repeat performance, and a letter sent out last month by Jim Shattuck, UP’s Executive Vice President, Marketing & Sales, did little to calm nerves. It acknowledged problems in southern California, saying that the railway was ’working aggressively to clear this backlog by rerouting selected traffic and focusing on increasing resource availability for the area.’ Meanwhile Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission Carole Keeton Rylander, who has been one of UP’s harshest critics, described the STB’s action as ’an Alice-in-Wonderland decision’.
On August 5 the STB announced that it had accepted for consideration several proposals formally submitted by railways and shippers suggesting permanent changes to the merged UP-SP network in the Houston and Gulf Coast region. These would require UP to sell routes and yards, provide ’neutral switching’ and give more rights to competitors such as BNSF, KCS and the Texas Mexican Railway. o