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Staying Afloat

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The story of Iowa’s 2019 floods can be told with numbers: 93 days of flooding. A high-water mark on the Mississippi River of 22.7 feet, the highest ever recorded. More than $2 billion in estimated damages.

“I was working 18-hour days, seven days a week,” Honeycutt said. “On average, guys were working 12 to 16 hours a day.”

The demanding schedule stemmed from the scope of the flooding. Water rose above the rails at four separate locations in southeastern Iowa. It was a painstaking, tedious process to keep the tracks high enough that railcar bearings stayed above the waterline. Crews dumped crushed-rock ballast and lifted the track with a tamper. The weight of passing trains simply pushed the track back down.

“We’d raise it five inches and we’d gain about two,” Honeycutt recalled.

The longest, most challenging stretch of track was in downtown Davenport. At the peak of flooding, a 1.8-mile stretch of track was underwater. At the northern edge of this area lies “the depression,” a site where an overhead bridge forces the track to a lower elevation to maintain clearances. The team sand-bagged a circle around the depression and ran pumps to keep it dry. When trains approached, they’d remove the sandbags from the right-of-way and flood water would rush in. Pumps kept pace as best they could until the train passed and the sandbags could be put back in place. For the rest of downtown, tracks already underwater needed to be raised by as much as 3.5 feet.

Provide Service winners, below from left to right: Joseph Walker, Machine Operator Jeffrey Anderson, Jr., Structures Foreman Eddie Honeycutt, Director Track and Structures Matthew Reiff, Machine Operator Kevin Law, Structures Foreman.

Provide Service winners Joseph Walker, Jeffrey Anderson, Jr., Eddie Honeycutt, Matthew Reiff, and Kevin Law

In years past, CP and its predecessors were able to operate through downtown Davenport until flood waters reached 19.3 feet. Last year, the team’s 24/7 sand-bagging, ballasting, pumping and lifting efforts kept operations going to 21.6 feet. That meant weeks of additional train operations that would never before have been possible.

“There was some pride in it,” said Joseph Walker, Machine Operator. “We did really well for what we were handed. We kept trains moving. That’s got to make anybody feel pretty good.”

Still, the water twice crested above 21.6 feet, both times necessitating track closure.

“It was very disheartening when they pulled the plug on that, because we fought it hard,” said Honeycutt.

“We did really well for what we were handed. We kept trains moving. That’s got to make anybody feel pretty good.”

– Joseph Walker, Machine Operator

The closed right-of-way did give CP’s dedicated employees a reprieve, with many taking days off for the first time in weeks. Once the water began to drop and train operations could resume, so too did the pace of the work. Despite the demanding hours, no Federal Railroad Administration-reportable injuries resulted from the flood operations. The key, said Kevin Law, Structures Foreman, was communication.

“We were constantly talking to everybody about everything,” he recalled. “It really helps when everybody talks. Everybody knows where everybody’s at.”

Law notes that beyond the five CEO Awards for Excellence winners, numerous CP employees worked extremely hard to keep trains operating safely through Davenport last spring, a sentiment shared by Honeycutt.

“They took it head-on,” Honeycutt said of his team. “They did a good job.”