By  on January 14, 2005

LOS ANGELES — After an almost two-day shutdown in service in the Los Angeles region because of heavy rains, Union Pacific Corp. said Thursday that two of its four main rail lines reopened while the other routes remained closed.

The disruption meant shippers, including major retailers, had to reroute freight by truck or through a rival carrier.

Tracks were damaged by mud slides and flooded from the two-week downpour that has caused about 20 deaths statewide.

For now, major retailers said they were able to avoid delays.

“This is the slow season in the industry,” said Robin Lanier, transportation adviser to the National Retail Federation, who estimated that about 50 percent of the apparel-related cargo from the ports moves by rail. “If this were the holidays, it could be really serious.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it was in “good shape” because of “contingency plans” involving the diversion of goods, said spokeswoman Sharon Weber.

J.C. Penney Co. said it had shifted merchandise to trucks and to another carrier. “There’s been no disruption of goods getting to stores,” said spokesman Tim Lyons.

John Bromley, Union Pacific spokesman in Omaha, Neb., said the last time such a wide disruption occurred was in the mid-Nineties because of Midwest flooding. Union Pacific normally operates 80 trains a day between the L.A. basin and the Midwest, and is a key mover of cargo from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation’s busiest seaport complex.

Service through Cajon Pass east of L.A. to the Bakersfield area was cleared and the rail line between downtown L.A. and Union Pacific’s main West Colton switching yard near San Bernardino — about 60 miles east of L.A. — was open.

Repairs to a fifth line that had been partly closed were also completed.

The routes to Las Vegas, which goes to Chicago, and the Pacific Coast to Oakland were still shut.

“We don’t have any estimates of when rail service would be restored there,” Bromley said.

The delays are the latest shipping crunch for the apparel industry, which weathered clogged ports during the busy holiday shipping season last year. Much of those delays stemmed from the railroad, which faced worker shortages when many took early retirement.The forecast is expected to be dry for the next 10 days with a “nominally tiny risk” of rain in the northwestern part of Southern California, said meteorologist Dan Keeton of the National Weather Service.

Los Angeles County officials said property damage from the storms is estimated at $30 million.

L.A. Mayor James Hahn declared a state of emergency,  estimating damage in the city at $10 million.

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