Union Pacific Opens Donner Pass Tunnel to Double-Stack Freight

Diana Jorgenson
Portola Editor

    Union Pacific Railroad announced last week that it had opened its Donner Pass route to double-stack freight traffic Nov. 19.
    The opening marked the end of a 12-month improvement project by Union Pacific to the Donner route in preparation for rerouting trains double-stacked with intermodal containers to Donner from the Feather River Canyon route.
    The prospective change has made the 80-100 Union Pacific employees in the Portola area nervous about the impact it will have upon their jobs.
    Union Pacific spokesmen have maintained no one will be laid off and no transfer of personnel is planned, but since stacktrain traffic is the predominant freight traffic coming through the Canyon, indeed, through all of California, according to UP pie charts, employees can not help but anticipate change.
    “Union Pacific has always indicated that the number of jobs will not change due to re-routing,” said Tom Lange, director of corporate communications in Omaha, Neb.
    “It will affect where some people report to work, in some instances. The re-routing of the intermodal traffic to the Donner route from the Feather River route means that some people will report to work in Sparks instead of Portola. The governing collective bargaining agreement for train and engine service employees provides for this shifting of reporting locations. Of course, Union Pacific will adhere to the governing union agreements for employee notifications.”
    He added UP support functions such as engineering, signaling, etc., will remain in Portola.
    Approximately four eastbound trains and six to nine westbound trains currently travel the Feather River route. No one will say definitively what this re-routing of stacktrains will mean in terms of train flow, but manifest and grain trains will continue to run down the Feather River Canyon.
    This is of little help to local UP employees since these trains are already manned by employees out of UP’s Roseville labor pool.
    Lange said he couldn’t speak to how the labor pools worked, but said employees had been notified about the changes in reporting location.
    UP management sees the change as an improvement in customer service.
    “The Donner tunnel project is a great example of how Union Pacific capital investments continue to support our customers’ ability to grow, drive increased operating efficiencies for our railroad and improve America’s transportation infrastructure,” said Jim Young, Union Pacific chairman and chief executive officer.
    The Donner route construction project included more than 18,000 linear feet of notching to improve tunnel clearances in 15 restricted tunnels between the California cities of Rocklin and Truckee.
    The improvements upgraded 30 miles of system signals to centralized traffic control standards, eliminating dark territory and allowing signal technology to control train movement instead of radio communications between dispatchers and locomotive engineers.
    Track removal lowered the floor, and track was reinstalled in two tunnels, and rock bolts for added stability were added in five tunnels.
    “This project will benefit our customers by improving our intermodal transit times compared to the current Feather River Canyon route,” said John Kaiser, Union Pacific vice president and general manager, Intermodal.
    Union Pacific’s Donner Pass route is as much as 73 miles shorter and up to three hours faster than the Feather River Canyon route, depending upon the destination.
    “Our Feather River Canyon route will continue to play a strategic role in how we serve our customers,” Kaiser said. “The combined benefits of the Donner Pass improvements and our existing Feather River Canyon route will provide additional flexibility to our network.”
    Not only will Union Pacific shorten the time on its runs, the company can run longer trains. The improvements to the Donner route give Union Pacific the ability to operate up to 9,000-foot trains, a 58 percent increase over the 5,700-foot trains that run through Feather River Canyon.
    Union Pacific Railroad, which links 23 states in the western two-thirds of the country, ships a diversified mix that includes agricultural products, automotive, chemicals, energy, industrial products and intermodal.
    The railroad has routes from all major West Coast and Gulf Coast ports to eastern gateways and connects with Canada's rail systems. It is the only railroad serving all six major gateways to Mexico.
    Union Pacific Railroad has been an integral part of Portola since it purchased the Western Pacific Railroad, founder of Portola.
    Many of the railroading families in Portola are in their third generation of railroad careers.
    Current Union Pacific employees, after this year of anticipation, are about to see how this major change will affect them.

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