Union Pacific to Resume Operations at Pine Bluff Yard

Union Pacific to Resume Operations at Pine Bluff Yard
A file photo of Union Pacific trains. The company is resuming operations at a yard in Pine Bluff that closed in 2019. (Shutterstock)

Union Pacific on Friday said it will resume some operations at a yard in Pine Bluff that closed in 2019.

Company spokesperson Mike Jaixen said "some furloughed employees are being called back to support repairing locomotives." He did not respond to questions about the number of employees or the timeline for their return.

The statement is identical to one that a separate Union Pacific spokesperson gave to Deltaplex News, which first reported that the yard is reopening. The outlet obtained a message between Union Pacific managers that says a "total call back" of employees and hiring of new machinists is underway.

"At first they will be working with 400 plus locomotives that have critical repairs needed to put back in-service," the message says. "After the 400 plus locomotives, they will remain open and resume normal operations as previous established prior to shut down."

About 75 people lost their jobs when the yard shut down, part of a years-long consolidation aimed at streamlining operations and reducing costs. About 60 employees in North Little Rock were also laid off.

When the pandemic struck and shipping volume declined, more workers across the U.S. were laid off and others were furloughed. By one count, Union Pacific eliminated more than 11,700 jobs from September 2018 to July 2020, reducing its nationwide workforce to around 33,000.

But with fewer workers, the company has struggled to handle a rebound in demand. The company has asked some customers to limit their shipments, leading to service complaints and questions from federal regulators.

"The cuts were too severe," said Max Fisher, chief economist for the National Grain and Feed Association. "Now there’s no buffer capacity to respond to increases in demand or problems in weather or train derailments and things like that. That buffer capacity that used to be in place is no longer there."

Union Pacific said it's addressing the problems by hiring aggressively and bringing locomotives out of storage. The workers in Pine Bluff are among 1,000 the company plans to hire across the nation this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.