By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications
Officials have classified it as a 1,000-year flood event, unleashed at the center of U.S. HRW wheat’s export industry. Following the catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey, some ports are still closed, rail embargos remain in effect and virtually no wheat was inspected for export last week at Texas grain export elevators. Even with the human and industrial costs of the storm, the supply chain is making good progress toward bringing the system fully back on line as soon as possible.
Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) reporting regions of Louisiana and North and South Texas account for account for 46 percent of total U.S. wheat exports based on the 5-year average. Texas elevators are near Galveston, Houston and Corpus Christi and account for about 56 percent of total Gulf wheat export volume. Texas wheat exports are almost all HRW, and most of the volume moves through elevators in the Galveston and Houston area, which took the brunt of the storm.
The Corpus Christi area did not experience the full force of the hurricane, so rail and elevator service will likely come back on line there first.
“Reports from the Port of Corpus Christi indicate that grain elevators are mostly operational,” said Darby Sullivan, communications director with the Texas Wheat Producers Board, Amarillo, Tex. “Last week’s closure was to ensure that ships were able to enter the port safely. This week, they estimated that the railroads are running at about 80 percent speed and capacity.”
USW has not been able to obtain much detail about elevator operations in the North Texas region, but
Sullivan said flood recovery work is still needed at some of the elevators. One elevator manager from the Houston area told her they loaded and unloaded some rail cars, but did not expect to be fully operational until late this week. At this point, the status of rail bed repairs will have the most influence on when the interruption eases.
With the safety and well-being of its employees and their families as its top priority, the Union Pacific (UP) Railroad said on Sept. 2 it is making good progress repairing lines serving the North Texas elevators. Some lines have re-opened, and the UP said even crucial east-west lines blocked by flood damage may be repaired by Sept. 7. The railroad’s report on Sept. 6 confirmed its progress on repairs. Union Pacific posts line status at https://www.up.com/customers/embargo/list/index.htm.
The BNSF Railroad also serves the Texas Gulf supply system. Its latest report to customers on Sept. 5 said “with improving conditions and aggressive efforts by our BNSF crews, rail service on most BNSF subdivisions in the Houston area and throughout southeastern Texas has been restored.”
Although the railroad said it is experiencing ongoing challenges involving the primary rail line that provides access to locations southwest of Houston, including Corpus Christi and Brownsville, it is re-routing or diverting as much traffic as possible around this affected location as well as other areas that are currently blocked. BNSF access into the Houston complex from the north and west is largely clear, the railroad said, which is important for HRW wheat moving from western Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and southwestern Nebraska.
Considering that Hurricane Harvey set a new, single storm rainfall record of more than 50 inches (127 centimeters), the progress toward re-opening the Texas grain ports is quite remarkable. We are glad the interruption is being managed by the supply chain participants and our overseas customers to the best of their abilities. At the same time, we are keeping the people affected by this storm in our concerns — as well as the farmers, ranchers and industry affected by the devastating fires in Montana, Oregon, Washington and many other western states.