Railroad crews repair flood damage, businesses hurting from no train access

Railroad crews repair flood damage, businesses hurting from no train access
As crews repair railroad tracks damaged by flood waters, businesses who are blocked off from shipping products on trains are speaking out about the extra costs. (SOURCE: Ed Tucker)

SCOTT CITY, Mo. (KFVS) - As crews repair railroad tracks damaged by flood waters along the Mississippi River, businesses who are blocked off from shipping products on trains are speaking out about the extra costs.

One of the worst cases of damage came after a levee breach in Ste. Genevieve County, Mo. which washed out the foundation of 70 foot stretch of railroad near Highway 61.

BNSF railway officials said it’s part of the subdivision between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis that has been out of service for months.

Now that flood gates are reopening, crews are continuing to assess and repair the damage to lines.

Executive Director Cary Harbison at the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority said three feet of water was covering one of their railways and required a lot of maintenance.

“We had to go up and cut trees off of our line, scoop some mud out of some of our switches. Look for wash outs, thankfully we did not have any wash outs," Harbison said. "It’s difficult but that is why you have emergency track crews and you have contractor working at night, any time of day. That will really put your railway back in service.”

Meanwhile businesses said not being able to ship products on trains is costing them more money.

Harbison said train access has been blocked off to places like Proctor & Gamble and Mondi in Cape Girardeau County.

Adam Thomas the Commercial Director for SEMO Milling in Scott City said it’s been hard to outlast the long duration of the closure.

“We were able to hold on for a month or so but after that the wheels came off the bus," Thomas said. "And it’s been scrambling for several months trying to keep this mill running and product moving out the door to our customers who rely on us.”

Thomas said they use trains to transport about half of their products, but for almost four months the shipping method stopped because rail lines were underwater.

“It was demoralizing to say the least going out and looking at the rail lines and knowing that is where my freight has to come from and it’s not coming today,” Thomas said.

To keep up with customer demands, Thomas said the company started shipping more product on trucks which he says is more expensive.

“It takes five truck loads to do the same as one rail car,” Thomas said. “So by the time you load it on a truck, ship it to the destination and pay the increased freight costs it’s 4,000 to 5,000 per rail car worth of product more to ship by truck.”

When things slowed down, Thomas said they came up with creative ways to keep their staff busy so they could still support their families.

“We did have to shut down the mill a few times,” Thomas said. “Luckily we were able to do a few projects, or do a lot of extra cleaning and keep our people at work and keep our people going. It’s nice for this to be coming to an end.”

Staff with BNSF Railway expect to fully restore rail services in the heartland by the evening of Sunday July 14, but SEMO Milling said it will take about six weeks to return to a normal shipping schedule.

Copyright 2019 KFVS. All rights reserved.