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Rail Traffic Disrupted by Storms

Times Staff Writers

Union Pacific Corp. said late Tuesday that mudslides and deep water had closed five of its six rail lines out of the Los Angeles Basin, bringing its rail service to a virtual standstill and posing potentially big problems for Southern California shippers and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

John Bromley, a UP spokesman in Omaha, said almost no Union Pacific rail traffic would be moving out of the L.A. area until at least Thursday because it would take that long to repair the damaged tracks. Traffic will be restricted for several days after that while the railroad works through the backlog of shipments, he said.

“Because of the washouts and the interruption of the railroad, we can’t move the traffic,” Bromley said. “So we have a legal right to refuse that traffic until we get the track restored.”

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Union Pacific normally operates about 80 trains a day into and out of the L.A. Basin, Bromley said, and is a key mover of container cargo from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the world’s busiest port complex.

A spokeswoman for the port complex’s other major rail line, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, said Tuesday night that BNSF trains were still running. Bromley said his railroad had been able to divert a limited amount of traffic to Burlington Northern lines, but he couldn’t estimate how much.

It wasn’t immediately clear what effect Union Pacific’s problems were having on the ports or other shippers around the Southland. A spokesman for a group that represents oceangoing shippers said he wasn’t aware of the railroad’s latest problems.

Union Pacific is the victim of a series of storms that dumped 17 inches of rain on downtown Los Angeles from Dec. 28 through early Tuesday morning -- the wettest 15-day period ever recorded for the area, according to the National Weather Service.

Bromley said both of Union Pacific’s lines through the Cajon Pass were closed after more than 20 mudslides hit the tracks since Sunday. A bridge is also out in that area, he said.

In addition, Union Pacific’s route to Las Vegas is closed and its rail line running up the Pacific coast is closed north of Santa Barbara, where rockslides and mudslides have blocked the tracks and high tides have washed out part of the embankment under the line.

Also, the rail line running between downtown L.A. and Union Pacific’s main West Colton switching yard near San Bernardino is closed.

The railroad’s only open line runs from Los Angeles to Beaumont and then east to Yuma, Ariz., and beyond.

The weather problems are the latest blow for Union Pacific’s Southern California operations. The railroad has been struggling since last spring with those operations, which have suffered massive logjams because of the surge in traffic through the ports. Within the last few days, shippers complained that they were still suffering delays.

Other businesses have also suffered during the recent storms. Amusement parks, utility companies and home builders were also hit.

Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park in Valencia closed early Saturday and didn’t even open Sunday because of the rain, spokeswoman Sue Carpenter said. The roller coasters should be rolling again this weekend.

Disneyland spokesman Bob Tucker said it had been business as usual at the Anaheim amusement park and indoor attractions had provided “a very comfortable experience for guests.” But Robert Iger, chief operating officer of Walt Disney Co., acknowledged that the rain “has some impact” on attendance. He declined to elaborate.

Southern California Edison hasn’t even started analyzing how much the storm has cost the electric utility because Edison’s problems are far from over, spokesman Gil Alexander said.

Although the rain stopped, strong winds in mountain areas and the Coachella Valley doubled the number of Edison customers without power, to 5,860 late Tuesday compared with 2,100 a day earlier, Alexander said. With the ground so soft from the rain, the winds are toppling power poles, he said.

“This doesn’t mean service restoration will take a long time; it just means we’re not done with this storm,” Alexander said.

Edison, with 4.6 million customer accounts overall, is a unit of Rosemead-based Edison International.

Other businesses that felt the effects of the storms included home builders, which plan each year for “rain days,” but few counted on the need for so many this season.

“This was kind of a fluke,” said Jeffrey Gault, president and chief operating officer of Empire Cos., an Ontario-based land developer and builder of residential and commercial properties. Now the company’s workers must race to catch up with their schedules, he said.

It’s too early to tell if retailers saw much of a drop-off in business. The number of shoppers fell off, but even torrential downpours don’t keep away the true believers, said Linda Berman, a spokeswoman for Caruso Affiliated, developer of the Grove outdoor mall in Los Angeles.

“What happens on these rainy days is you don’t have as many people,” Berman said, “but the people you have are serious shoppers.”

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Times staff writers Eric Malnic, Claudia Eller, Melinda Fulmer, Annette Haddad, James Peltz and Julie Tamaki contributed to this report.


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