Advertise in Print | Subscriptions
Published June 27, 2014, 09:35 AM

Rail backlog has ripple effect

With another saltie sitting outside the Duluth harbor waiting to load grain this week, federal pressure continues on ramping up grain shipments by rail across the Midwest.

By: Mike Creger, Forum News Service

With another saltie sitting outside the Duluth harbor waiting to load grain this week, federal pressure continues on ramping up grain shipments by rail across the Midwest.

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken this week praised the efforts of the Surface Transportation Board in demanding that two railroad companies provide weekly reports and plans to get grain shipments moving across the Midwest.

“This is another good step,” Franken said in a news release. “But we still need to help other rail customers in Minnesota who suffer from poor service.”

The rail backlog also has affected coal shipments from Montana and the ability of automobile manufacturers to ship new vehicles.

The Surface Transportation Board ordered the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Canadian Pacific rail companies to provide plans by today on how they plan to ease the backlog.

The rail companies have said a harsh winter slowed shipments and created some of the delays. Customers have complained that rail companies are concentrating too much on filling shipments from the oil fields in North Dakota.

That oil boom continues, while last year’s American corn and soybean crop had some of the largest yields in history.

The Twin Ports has seen the effects of limited grain shipments. Earlier this year, one oceangoing vessel, the Federal Mattawa, sat outside the Aerial Lift Bridge for 23 days until there was enough grain at the CHS elevator in Superior. Another foreign ship coming for grain, the Raba, has been anchored all week.

Grain elevator managers in the Twin Ports were reluctant to comment on the availability of grain. Representatives of parent grain companies testified at a Surface Transportation Board hearing in April.

“During the hearing, farmers and representatives of agricultural producers described severe, negative effects resulting from backlogged grain car orders and delayed shipments of loaded grain cars,” the board reported in its decision issued last week.

The crisis then was the availability of fertilizer for spring planting and fears about last fall’s harvest piling up not only in the Midwest but across Canada.

The board said it singled out BNSF and Canadian Pacific because the problems have been “acute” on their lines.

BNSF already had been giving updates on its efforts to add employees, bring on new locomotives and cars, and improve or create track. Canadian Pacific started providing updates after the April talks.

The transportation board said it “remains very concerned about the limited time period until the next harvest” with large amounts of stored grain yet to be shipped.

Tags: