Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

The Great Flood of 1993: Impacts on Waterborne Commodity Flow, Rail Transportation, and Surrounding Region

Lonnie E. Haefner, Robert G. Goodwin, and Luis A. Porrello

L.E. Haefner and L.A. Porrello,
Department of Civil Engineering,
Washington University,
Campus Box 1130,
One Brookings Dr.,
St. Louis, Missouri 63130.

U.S. Department of Transportation,
Maritime Administration, Mid-Continent Office,
1222 Spruce Street, Suite 10.200,
St. Louis, Missouri 63103-2831.

This document presents a discussion of the effects of the Flood of 1993 on the waterway and railway modes of transport. Analysis of the waterway data collected at the La Grange, Lock 25 and Lock 27 systems between June and August 1993 shows a significant drop in the quantity of commodities that were transfered during the flooding period, when compared to data from the previous year (1992) and two years after (1995). The movement of southbound farm products through Lock 25 in 1993 decreased 48 percent from 1992. Similarly, the movement of southbound farm products through Lock 27 in 1993 decreased 31 percent from the previous year. Damages to the rail system are presented on a state-by-state basis and are estimated to represent $182 million in required repairs. Claim estimates for crop losses reported to the United States Department of Agriculture by the states of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missori, South Dakota, and Wisconsin reach $1.22 billion, and damages outside of agricultural losses incurred by the State of Missouri alone total $1.25 billion.

It is readily acknowledged that the Great Flood of 1993 in the upper Mississippi region was the worst in recent history. The effects of this flood on the flow of commodities in the Midwest was tremendous. This document presents the impact of this natural disaster on two modes of transport. First, the activity of three lock systems in the Midwest during the flooding period is described, and from the analysis of these data, a numerical impact on the

waterway mode is inferred. Second, damages to the railway mode are described on a state-by-state as well as on a system-wide basis. In addition, the document presents a condensed discussion of the economic impacts on the region by providing a synopsis of the losses incurred by the agricultural industry and the State of Missouri.

Impact on the Waterway Mode

An appropriate method to determine the impact of the Flood of 1993 on the waterborne commerce in the Midwest region is to analyze the performance of key lock systems located on the affected waterways. The activity of the La Grange Lock on the Illinois River, Lock 25 on the Upper Mississippi, and Lock 27 near St. Louis on the Mississippi is sufficient to construct a sample numerical analysis of the flood's impact on waterborne commodity flow.

La Grange Lock - Illinois River

The La Grange Lock System is located near the junction of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers (Figure 1). The Illinois River services ports along riverside communities in Illinois and provides a connection to the Great Lakes System through the port of Chicago and the Indiana Harbor. The monthly total commodity movements (upbound plus downbound) reported by the La Grange Lock System between January 1991 and December 1993 are shown in Figure 2 (1). The chart shows that the system reports larger movements during the winter months and smaller peaks during the summer months. The high movements during the winter months (circles on the chart) are due to the shifting of southbound traffic from the Upper Mississippi, which experiences freezing conditions, to the Illinois River. The box on the chart shows the activity of the system during the critical months of the Flood of 1993. Total movements dropped from approximately 2,539,670 megagrams (2,800,078 tons) in June to 690,456 megagrams (761,253 tons) in July, or approximately 73 percent. The system did not recuperate to June-level figures until October, four months after the flooding began.

Lock 25 - Mississippi River

Lock 25 provides a measuring point for traffic on the Upper Mississippi River, north of the junction with the Illinois River (Figure 1). Commodity flow to or from ports along the states of Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota is recorded in Lock 25. Figure 3 depicts the monthly movements recorded by Lock 25 for the period from January 1991 to December 1993 (1). The circles on the chart represent the season highs which the system reports during summer months, when grain transport is most significant. The triangles show the yearly lows reported during winter months when the Upper Mississippi experiences freezing conditions. The box surrounds the activity during the summer of 1993. The total amount of commodity movement decreased from 3,433,357 megagrams (3,785,399 tons), recorded in the month of June, to zero movement in July when the lock system was forced to shut down completely because of high water levels. The system recovered in October just before the winter months forced the usual decrease in activity.

Lock 27 - Mississippi River

The Lock 27 System is located near the Port of St. Louis, just downstream of the junction between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, and just upstream of the junction between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers (Figure 1). The total commodity movements reported by Lock 27 during the period from January 1991 to December 1993 are shown in Figure 4 (1). Similar to Lock 25, the trend of Lock 27 movements involves high values during the summer months (circles on chart), and low values during the winter months (triangles on chart). The box containing the summer 1993 data shows the impact of the flood, when total movement dropped from 6,607,288 megagrams (7,284,772 tons) recorded in June to 537,280 megagrams (592,370 tons) in July. Total movement then peaked in October before dropping once more during the winter months.

Before-After scenarios

For the purpose of a "before-after" comparison of activity in the region, the following numerical analysis is offered. Table 1 tabulates the movements reported by the La Grange, Lock 25 and Lock 27 systems during the June-August periods of 1992, 1993 (2) and 1995 (3). The 1995 data set is presented in place of 1994 data set because both Lock 25 and Lock 27 systems failed to report figures for the month of June 1994. The table shows how severe the drop in commodity flow during the summer of 1993 was, when compared to similar periods in 1992 and 1995. The impact of the 1993 flood on the system is also evident from an analysis of the total southbound farm product movements (the primary flow in the region) recorded by La Grange, Lock 25, and Lock 27. As shown in Table 2, the movement of southbound farm products in 1993 dropped 48 percent and 31 percent from 1992 figures on Locks 25 and 27 respectively (2). The table also shows that the La Grange system was the only one to report numbers similar to those in 1992, perhaps because, unlike Lock 25 and Lock 27, it remained open during most of the winter period following the flood.

Impact on the Railway Mode

Figures on commodity movements by rail are not as easily available as those for waterborne commodities because most of the rail data is proprietary to the line operators. However, some information on the damages by the 1993 flood is available from records of a hearing conducted by the United States Congress immediately following the flooding period (4,5). A significant impact on the railway mode by flooding conditions in the Midwest is not surprising since approximately 25 percent of all rail freight originates, terminates, or traverses within this region. In September of 1993, when water levels where still receding from flood-high levels, numerous railway lines reported significant damage. Gail C. McDonald, Chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, reported the following conditions as of late August 1993 (4): In Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all main line trackage was in service, but due to limited train speeds and congestion, at least two hour delays were expected. In Iowa, the Burlington Northern Railroad was still working to restore service to Rulo, Iowa to Kansas City, Missouri, and Keokuk, Iowa where water remained over the tracks through August. Also in Iowa, the Iowa Interstate Railroad reported a 16 km/h (10 mph) speed limit over much of the railroad due to saturated ground. In Missouri, the Burlington Northern Railroad canceled traffic rerouting between Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City, Missouri, and the line between Machens and West Alton, Missouri remained under water through August. The Brookfield to West Quincy, Missouri line was also under water through August. Also in Missouri, the Gateway Western Railway reported that the Mexico to Rock Creek Jct. subdivision was out of service due to washouts at Harmony and that bridge damage at Glascow, Missouri had rendered it inoperable. Other closures and/or reduced speeds were reported in Missouri by the Kansas City Terminal, Norfolk Southern, SOO Line, St. Louis Southwestern, and Chicago and North Western Railways. In Kansas, Union Pacific Railroad reopened its Bestwall Branch in September. In Nebraska, Union Pacific Railroad's Weeping Water Branch remained out of service throughout August. Finally, in North Dakota, Burlington Northern Railroad's Aberdeen, South Dakota to Genesee Junction, North Dakota as well as its Hannaford to Binford, North Dakota lines remained out of service during August (4).

Estimates of the costs incurred by the railroad industry during the 1993 flood vary. Table 3 shows the estimates reported by Edwin Harper, president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Railroads, as of September 23, 1993 (5). A total of $182 million was arrived to by adding numerous costs including damages to track lines, bridges, switches, locomotives, rolling stock, and buildings, along with the cost of detouring trains. Damages were especially significant to regional rail carriers like Gateway Western. J. Reilly McCarren, president of Gateway Western Railway, summarized his statement to the Congress by stating that the estimated $10 million loss incurred by his company was potentially fatal for a company with only $31 million in revenues (6).

Economic Impacts in the Region

The Midwest region is responsible for two-thirds of all corn produced in America, and 1/2 of all the soybeans grown in the United States. Claim estimates for crop losses reported to the United States Department of Agriculture by the states of Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, and Wisconsin reached $1.22 billion. Table 4 shows the breakdown of the state's claims. It was also estimated that during the peak of the flood 3.24 million hectares (8 million acres) were under water in the Upper Midwest region, and a total of 8.1 plus million hectares (20 plus million acres) were adversely affected by this situation (7).

The Midwest region also suffered significant damages outside of agricultural losses. In the State of Missouri, for example, Governor Mel Carnahan indicated that the state's losses outside of agriculture totaled $1.25 billion. According to the State Emergency Management Agency, and state and local governments, damage estimates to public facilities in 75 of Missouri's 114 counties totaled more than $122 million. Missouri highways sustained approximately $60 million in damage and 300 sections were closed for some period of time. Damages to sewer and water systems totaled almost $24 million, water control facilities $20 million, and losses to public buildings exceeded $3 million. Almost 3,200 businesses in Missouri suffered physical and/or economic damage in 59 counties and one city. Over 46,000 employees lost wages for one or more days, due to flooding or flood-related problems. Approximately 25,000 employees were laid off. Approximately 3,000 homes were destroyed and 12,000 were damaged or made inaccessible (8).


As evident from the discussion presented in this document, the 1993 flood had a tremendous impact on the transport of commodities by waterways and railways. Activity between June and August of 1993 dropped significantly when compared to 1992 and 1995. The movement of southbound farm products through Lock 25 and Lock 27 decreased 48 percent and 31 percent respectively in 1993 from 1992. In addition, damage estimates of the resulting economic losses to the agricultural industry and the surrounding communities continue to increase. Finally, a significant impact that cannot be quantified is the human toll of this natural disaster. It is clear, however, that the memories of the summer of 1993 will remain imprinted for a very long time in the minds of all those who were affected.

  1. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Data Center. Lock Performance Monitoring System—Commodity Data. U.S. Waterway Data CD-ROM. Bureau of Transportation Statistics Product No. BTS-CD-07.
  2. The Waterways Journal. Selected issues 1992–1994.
  3. Army Corps of Engineers Navigation Data Center. 1995 Lock Performance Chart. World Wide Web Page (
  4. G.C. McDonald. Statement of Gail C. McDonald. Effect of Midwest Flooding on Rail Transportation. Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials. Committee on Energy and Commerce of the United States House of Representatives. One Hundred Third Congress. First Session. Sept. 23, 1993, pp. 22–32.
  5. E.L. Harper. Statement of Edwin L. Harper. Effect of Midwest Flooding on Rail Transportation. Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials. Committee on Energy and Commerce of the United States House of Representatives. One Hundred Third Congress. First Session. Sept. 23, 1993. p. 69.
  6. J.R. McCarren. Statement of J. Reilly McCarren. Effect of Midwest Flooding on Rail Transportation. Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials. Committee on Energy and Commerce of the United States House of Representatives. One Hundred Third Congress. First Session. Sept. 23, 1993. pp. 98–99.
  7. M. Espy. Statement of Mike Espy. Flood and Disaster Relief in the Midwest. Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the United States Senate. One Hundred Third Congress. First Session. July 16, 1993. pp. 50–63.
  8. Condition of Agricultural Land Damaged by the Midwest Flood. Joint Hearing Before the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and the Subcommittee on Environment, Credit, and Rural Development. Committee on Agriculture of the United States House of Representatives. One Hundred Third Congress. First Session. Nov. 19, 1993. pp. 67–69.

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