Southern California’s shipping industry was largely affected by wildfire-spurred highway and rail-line closure on Wednesday August 17th. And things haven’t gotten entirely better yet. The slowdown is expected to cost millions of dollars per day.
The enormous Blue Cut fire’s impact affected far more than the Cajon Pass. Deliveries were slower and schedules were disrupted. A number of truckers, shippers, retailers and crew staffing Southern California’s ports were struggling to complete their day-to-day jobs.
While it’s too early to say how much this issue will cost the trucking industry, Eric Sauer, vice president of the California Trucking Association, says it could cost up to $1 million a day in additional operating costs. Sauer fears that this will have a trickle effect.
On Tuesday the 16th, Interstate 15 closed down before noon. Interstate 15 serves as the main route between Las Vegas and Southern California. Tens and thousands of Southern California residents had to leave their homes due to the fire. Truckers had to make the decision whether to stop at gas stations and rest stops or to deviate hundreds of miles east or west of their path.
Every day, more than 5,000 cargo trucks use this route, carrying everything from construction tools to fresh produce. A number of truckers will now have to drive far out of their way just to get their jobs done. According to Joe Rajkovacz, a spokesman for the Western States Trucking Association and a longtime trucker himself, this could be a diversion of up to 200 miles.
The north-south railroad lines of the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad were shut down through the Cajon Pass for a large portion of Tuesday and Wednesday. This led to delays in the distribution of millions of dollars’ worth of goods.
Three of the four railway lines were reopened by late Wednesday. These three lines were all BNSF lines, while the unopened line belongs to Union Pacific. This was not simply due to a difference in company. The Union Pacific line underwent substantial damage to a bridge, so it needed to say closed. This damage caused a backup all the way to Kansas.
The Union Pacific railroad line is the only one that travels directly to Las Vegas and Barstow from Southern California, home of the busiest seaport in the country. The Union Pacific railroad has anywhere from 50 to 70 cargo-stacked trains delivering goods from Arizona and the areas east all the way up to the Pacific Northwest.
Union Pacific runs a couple more rail lines: one along the coast and another to the east. The railroad is rolling container boxes via side tracks or transporting them to nearby rail yards in Colton and Los Angeles.
Big rig drivers and transportation companies that ship cargo will also have the possible problem of equipment shortages due to the fire. The cargo boxes and hauling equipment that are crucial to shipping are often leased or rented by truck drivers. If these key items are unavailable for a long period of time, or if drivers need to extend the length of their rentals, equipment could be scarce and things could become expensive.
Traffic is still looking pretty congested, and it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take for things to go back to normal.