BNSF Railroad, the Warren Buffett-owned company that has benefited most from the North Dakota shale boom, has told some customers that they cannot add new oil tank cars to its system until next year, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The region’s two Class I railroads — BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway — are reporting improved status on late cars, and CP has proposed a major merger to bypass an infamous Chicago bottleneck blamed for last winter’s delays.
John Miller, BNSF group vice president for agriculture, spoke at a meeting of the North Dakota Agricultural Rail Business Council in Mandan, N.D., July 31. The group is made up of about 40 ag-related entities.
“We know we’re not doing as well as we should; we know the market wants more,” Miller said. “But we are shipping record amounts.”
The slow rail service threatening the livelihood of farmers in the Upper Midwest has gotten better in recent weeks, but at the Forest River Bean Co., the railcars ordered from BNSF or Canadian Pacific are still two to three months behind, said the company president.
A Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway weekly report on late cars released March 28 alludes to “green shoots” of improvement, but contains results that fell further behind for the fourth week in a row for the four-state area. It also alludes to impending issues with the winter wheat harvest coming in June.
Train delays have been chronic all winter at Agassiz Valley and across the Midwest. Engines are running five to 10 days late, creating an increasingly costly backup. Farmers can’t haul grain from their farm storage to the elevator because the grain can’t move to market.
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