Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published May 19, 2014, 09:56 AM

Oil trains plug rails, not winter

North Dakota farmers have lost nearly $67 million this year because of rail shipment delays, and stand to lose $100 million more if the situation on the rails continues.

By: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Agweek

North Dakota farmers have lost nearly $67 million this year because of rail shipment delays, and stand to lose $100 million more if the situation on the rails continues. A North Dakota State University study concluded the reasons are increased oil trains on the lines, cold weather and a large grain crop.

The primary focus should be on oil trains. There are always some post-harvest delays in getting grain cars to elevators or moving grain down the main lines to markets. But to suggest winter suddenly has become a larger factor than it normally is, or that a big grain crop plugged up the system, flies in the face of seasonal realities that happen every year. The change — the exacerbating factor — is a startling and accelerating increase in oil train traffic.

Whether it’s a country elevator trying to secure grain cars to move the crop out, or the Red River Valley’s sugar producers trying to get their refined product to customers, the economic fallout from Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s management decision to favor oil trains has been significant. And it is a management decision. The railroad’s priority clearly is oil train traffic. Traditional long-time customers that ship grain, fertilizer, sugar and other ag commodities have been relegated to second-class status, or worse. Anyone heard of significant oil train delays? Anyone heard of a shortage of tank cars? Anyone heard of eastern refiners losing millions of dollars because Bakken crude isn’t getting to them?

Don’t blame winter. Don’t blame a large crop. Those factors are routine every year. This year, it’s oil train traffic. It’s a business decision made by the railroad to move oil at the expense of North Dakota farmers, grain elevators and agribusinesses. Railroads make more money hauling crude oil than they do shipping wheat. Smart business, maybe. Lousy public relations, certainly.

Editor’s note: this editorial was published in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead on May 6.

Tags: