Railroad Important Part of Local Economy, Utah’s Too


BEAR Press Release

There was at time when a number of main line railroads operated tracks through Utah. Today there is only one: Union Pacific. And that railroad has an impact on almost everyone in eastern Utah in one way or another.

A presentation by Nathan Anderson, a public affairs officer for UP, at the general BEAR meeting on Jan. 7 brought some facts about Union Pacific to light. One of them is that the railroad makes a difference in Utah economy.

“Across the United States UP has 47,000 employees,” Anderson told the 40 people gathered at the meeting. “In Utah we have 1500. Those jobs each generate 4.5 other jobs in the state.”

Anderson talked about the early days of the railroad and how the joining of the transcontinental lines changes America and even the world.

“The presidents of those companies (the Central Pacific which came from the west and the Union Pacific which was built from the east) had a global vision even then,” he said.

Anderson said that today Union Pacific has a unique franchise in its business. He said that its lines cover the fastest growing part of the United States and that it has a good relationship with the ports on the ocean that it serves as well as border crossings with Canada and Mexico.

“The fact is that we haul almost everything and anything people want or need,” he said.

He said that he once told  that to a group of elementary school students and they tried to guess some things that UP didn’t haul. One kid asked about human organs. Anderson quipped that they don’t obviously haul organs for transplants, but every once in a while someone will slip onto one of their cars and be transported without the railroad knowing it.

The size of UP is immense. It operates 32,000 miles of track with 8,500 locomotives in 23 states. It’s payroll equals $4.6 billion and has about 10,000 customers. The company is divided into six business units each with different percentages of the total operation attributable to those individual groups: automobiles/vehicles (8% of their business, but he did say that UP carries 80 percent of the cars in the country), agriculture (17 %), chemicals (16%), industry (20%), coal (18%) and intermodal transport (20%). The industry division covers most of the catch all things the company transports. He also pointed out that the percentage of haulage in the various units are changing, particularly in the past few years. He pointed out, for instance, that coal used to be the biggest part of the business, but it has continued to go down year after year.

Anderson said that the company has its own brokerage firm (UPDS) that can arrange for every kind of transport and storage available for customers. They also have a part of the firm that just does intermodal transport.

When asked about if any business was too small to use UP, he said they weren’t.

“Some small companies ship as little as one car load of goods every three months,” he stated.

Anderson presented to the group the company’s customer value strategy. Those include safety, service, efficiency, share holder returns and investments. He said that the company knows it needs to continue to invest in safety, service and efficiency to get good returns to shareholders.

“The company has a $4.2 billion investment plan with 44 percent of the dollars going to infrastructure, 26 percent into locomotives and equipment, 5 percent into technology, 15 percent into capacity and commercial facilities and 10 percent going toward positive train control,” he told the group.

That final investment is a government mandated change for safety. Positive train control is a system that is being installed so all trains can talk to each other regardless of the company that owns the lines or the equipment.

He said the company is working hard to improve their capacity with a unified plan of action.

“This idea of a unified plan of action has really helped us,” he said explaining that rolling with the punches is part of what the railroad has to do. “When they discovered oil in the Bakkan Field in the Dakotas we realized that we had good east-west access for our lines, but not so good access north and south. That oil needed to be hauled to Gulf Coast refineries, a southern route, and we had to adapt to that change.

He said UP intends on simplifying their transportation network, to have more point to point delivery locations, to balance the network (how the trains travel and what is most efficient) and to increase the train sizes as needed.

Another major factor for the railroad is safety, for both employees and the public.

“We have one of the best safety records of any industry and have set records for it,” he stated.

He said that in the last few years, the rate of employee injuries at UP has dropped to less than one injury for every 200,000 hours of employee work time. UP has cut derailments of train cars by 35 percent. And important to all those that travel by automobiles, accidents at grade crossings the public uses has dropped by 12 percent. He said that UP has what they call a Courage to Care program in which any employee can point out  something is unsafe without any retribution for doing so. He said you will never see a UP employee texting on his or her phone while doing a task, even while walking, because of the proven dangers of that.

In terms of public safety the company works hard to educate people about being on railroad property or when crossing railroad tracks.

“The company has its own police force for enforcement,” he said. “They can even write tickets. We are also working hard at engineering grades at crossings for optimum safety. When an accident happens at a grade crossing it is a tragedy for everyone, including the trains crew. They see everything that happens and have to live with it.”

He also pointed out that there are also all kinds of inspection programs to make sure equipment, rails and bridges are safe. For instance, the company now uses ultra-sound devices to check rolling stock wheels, because they can have unseen flaws in them. If problems are detected, even if the wheel looks okay, it is replaced with a new one.

On the subject of rolling stock, one audience member asked about rail cars and how many the company owns.

“The company owns about 60,000 of its own rail cars, but many of the cars that people see going down a line are owned by the companies that have things or materials being transported,” he replied. “In fact, the number of cars owned by others is much higher than what UP actually has.”

He also talked about the efficiency of transporting goods by train.

“We are more environmentally efficient than almost any other kind of transport. On average, a train can carry one ton of freight 470 miles while only using one gallon of diesel fuel. The inertia of a large train can be very powerful,” he concluded.

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