SoCal Transport Situation Improves
Most rail-air operations back to or close to normal
LOS ANGELES - 11/01/03 - 'the nine wildfires that have ravaged Southern California from San Diego northward to Ventura County for the past week are gradually coming under control as firefighters, aided by cooler weather, diminished winds, and rain, have gained an upper hand on the massive conflagration.
The fires claimed 20 lives, charred more than 740,000 acres or an area roughly the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island, claimed 20 lives, and caused damage estimated at well over $2 billion.?
In addition, the fires - the worst in the history of the state - brought the region's transportation infrastructure, which handles a staggering percentage of the nation's international trade, to a virtual standstill.
But the situation is improving, slowly.
"Trains weren't moving at all for a couple of days [Sunday and Wednesday] because of the fire that effectively closed the Cajon Pass," said Lena Kent, a spokesman for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), one of the two major railroads linking the region with the rest of the country.
The Cajon Pass, located east of Los Angeles in San Bernardino County, is the principle rail route for conventional freight and intermodal trains moving in and out of the Los Angeles Basin.
"We're still working through the backlog of trains that were held-up because of the fire," she said, adding that the carrier has suspended its much-touted "on-time or on-us" service for intermodal cargo "until further notice."
The BNSF was forced to curtail operations at its Barstow and San Bernardino terminals for several hours as workers at both facilities were driven indoors by clouds of smoke and ash whipped-up by the fires raking the nearby mountains.
"This is peak season for us," said Kent. "We're working as hard as we can to get as many trains through the pass as possible, but we've no idea when things will get completely back to normal."
According to Kent, between 80 and 100 trains moved eastbound and westbound on Wednesday with almost 100 moving through the Pass on Thursday.
The Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), which also serves the greater Los Angeles area, is reporting all lines are now operational with 24 to 48 hour delays expected for the time being for trains moving through the Cajon Pass.
"We've moved about twenty-four intermodal trains and about forty-eight conventional freight trains through the Pass over the last several days," says UPRR spokesman John Bromley, adding that some yard operations at the railroad's West Colton, Miraloma, and Montclair terminals were curtailed as workers had to resort to using respirators to breathe in the choking air.
"We currently have about thirty trains being impacted, but we'll have them moving as soon as possible," he said.
The region's highways are all operational following the complete and partial closure of several key interstate and state routes including the Interstate 5 that runs north from san Diego all the way to Vancouver, British Columbia, and the Interstate 15, which links Los Angeles with Las Vegas through San Bernardino.
Air operations at the regions major airports are largely back to normal after flights earlier in the week were curtailed because of the evacuation Sunday morning of the Federal Aviation Administration's Southern California Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facility at Miramar, near San Diego.
The facility was evacuated when it was threatened by one of the wildfires raging in the area and its functions were transferred to an air traffic control center near Palmdale, east of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert, which normally handles high-altitude commercial air traffic.
The Miramar facility was back on-line and operational Wednesday.
The Southern California TRACON is responsible for oversight of the busiest approach control in the world, providing radar air traffic approach control services to all arriving and departing aircraft for most airports in Southern California.
Airports in the TRACON network include Burbank Airport, John Wayne Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Long Beach Airport, Ontario International Airport, San Diego International Airport, Van Nuys Airport and many more airports that service general aviation.
According to the FAA, the facility's airspace is approximately 17,000 square miles and covers an area from 20 miles north of Burbank to the US-Mexican border and from San Bernardino to Santa Catalina Island, one of the Channel Islands chain located about 25 miles off the coast of Southern California.
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