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Published February 11, 2014, 09:07 PM

BNSF promises help in railroad delay issues

Elevator operators are perennial critics of railroad service for hauling grain, but many say delays are worse than ever in the winter of 2013/2014.

By: Mikkel Pates,

FARGO, N.D. – Elevator operators are perennial critics of railroad service for hauling grain, but many say delays are worse than ever in the winter of 2013 to 2014.

The situation is bad enough that Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., called a meeting with the North Dakota congressional delegation and several officials connected to the issue on Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C. to discuss possible solutions for sugar beet, grain and passenger transportation interests.

Among those in the meeting were Matt Rose, executive chairman of BNSF, Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, and sugar officials – David Berg, president and CEO of American Crystal Sugar Co.; John Doxsie, president of United Sugars Inc., which markets sugar for American Crystal and two other cooperatives; and Jim Johnson, president of the U.S. Beet Sugar Association.

After the meeting, Hoeven told Agweek that BNSF committed to bring in 125 locomotives on short-term leases which could be in place in the region in the next two weeks. He said the railroad will also bring in 250 people off of seasonal furloughs to help improve matters, as well as start reporting on a website next week to post delinquent train deliveries.

During 2014 the railroad will invest $5 billion into its railroad network in expansions and improvements – at least $600 million of that in North Dakota -- and add another 500 locomotive and 5,000 grain cars, as well as 5,000 employees to maintenance, system-wide, including 250 in North Dakota.

Berg, who attended the meeting by audio, tells Agweek that Rose talked about the surge in volume from all sectors – intermodal, crops, coal and oil -- and that things will improve when temperatures are consistently above 10 below zero.

“With the weather forecast in the 20s in the next few weeks, it should help a lot,” Berg says Rose told the group. “That’s great to hear. But we don’t want to hear plans and projections; we want performance.”