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Union Pacific’s double-stack trains now rumbling through Placer County

Union Pacific expands Donner Summit tunnel clearances to take freight off slower Feather River Canyon route
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Double-stack container shipping is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad through Auburn. The Union Pacific opened its Donner Pass route to domestic double stack container freight earlier this month after completing a 12-month project of tunnel-clearance improvements. Height of the trains can now be up to almost 21 feet. Nearly four miles of work was completed in 15 tunnels between Rocklin and Truckee to allow the higher container traffic to use the route. In two of the tunnels, track was temporarily removed to lower tunnel floors to allow clearances for higher trains. “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 intermodal general manager. “Completing this project will help us better serve our customers while supporting economic growth in Northern California and at the Port of Oakland.” The route will allow shipments now taking the Feather River Canyon route to the north to use the Donner line and take as much as 73 miles off routes between Oakland and Chicago route, Union Pacific estimates. About 10 to 12 freight trains now pass daily through Auburn. The newly opened route won’t mean the end of the Feather River Canyon railroad but will mean that Donner Summit shipments can be strung together on a 9,000-foot train – compared with 5,700-foot trains along the northern route. “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 as we strive to improve on Union Pacific’s record levels of customer satisfaction.” According to Union Pacific, a single intermodal train takes up to 300 over-the-road trucks off the highway, with rails at least four times more fuel-efficient than trucks. Jim Young, Union Pacific CEO, said in an announcement of the route expansion that the corporation has invested nearly $17 billion in the rail network since 2004.