As wildfires raged throughout California and Oregon this summer, state officials had limited tools available to protect logistics infrastructure in remote canyons and hillsides.
Fortunately, a major freight transportation company was able to lend a hand. That company, the Union Pacific Railroad, dedicated a specialized "water train" to deliver firefighters and precious water to battle hotspots along the company's tracks, bridges, and tunnels. According to the UP, its water train consists of two railcars—each holding 12,500 gallons of water—and a pumper unit. The unit travels back and forth over a seven-mile stretch, traversing up to 50 miles daily.
To avoid interfering with the railroad's regular freight operations, the firefighting train's movements require tight coordination with UP's Harriman Dispatching Center, the company's national rail traffic control headquarters, located in Omaha, Nebraska.
"We've had more than 16 fires so far this year in the Valley, Winnemucca, and Canyon subdivisions, and the Reno, Nevada, [area]," Jerry Rhea, Union Pacific's manager–bridge maintenance and engineering, said in a release issued in early September. "We stockpile trains in Portola, California, and make arrangements with the Harriman Dispatching Center so we can escort trains through the track at night when everything cools down."