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UPDATED: Goehring has 'positive' talk with CP after calling company's CEO 'arrogant'

North Dakota's Commissioner of Agriculture said the Canadian Pacific Railway and its CEO are "arrogant" and that the company is less responsive than Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the state's other major shipper.

Doug Goehring
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North Dakota's Commissioner of Agriculture said the Canadian Pacific Railway and its CEO are "arrogant" and that the company is less responsive than Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the state's other major shipper.

"CP's just arrogant. Hunter Harrison (the company's CEO) -- I have very little negative thoughts or feelings towards many people in this world -- that is one arrogant individual," Doug Goehring said.

Goehring made his comments during a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Grand Forks Herald, Agweek's sister publication. Among the topics were the persistent rail delays in North Dakota that have hampered grain shipments out of the state.

In his meeting with the editorial board, Goehring said CP is "one organization that just will not communicate."

BNSF has flaws, too. "I'll give BNSF a black eye when they need it, and I have," Goehring said.

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But Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF has done a better job, and is more willing to work with North Dakota officials, than CP, he said.

CP's inadequate service in North Dakota pushed more grain into areas served by BNSF, Goehring said.

"That's why they (BNSF) had a harder time getting caught up (on tardy grain shipments)," he said.

CP, Canada's second-biggest railway, had this to say when contacted for its response to Goehring's criticism:

"Our comments are fact based," CP spokesperson Breanne Feigel said in a Sept. 30 email. "CP continues to move significant volumes of grain for North Dakota shippers. In fact, we fulfilled 2,868 grain orders in the U.S. last week, as outlined in our weekly report to the STB, which is our best performance in 2014."

The STB is the Surface Transportation Board, an organization within the U.S. Department of Transporation that has jurisdiction over railroad rate and service issues.

Stands by his comments

Goehring, contacted Sept. 30 by Agweek, said he stands by his comments to the editorial board.

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"The company is reflected by its leadership," he said.

Goehring pointed to an Aug. 11 meeting in Minot, N.D., which Harrison and a number of North Dakota political and grain industry officials attended.

"Hunter Harrison didn't seem to be very open," Goehring said. "He did seem to be arrogant. I appreciate the fact that he came to North Dakota. He just seemed to come with an attitude -- that we were all wrong and that he had it all figured out. That was disappointing."

An Agweek article about the Minot meeting said Harrison "showed pride and disappointment in his railroad's ability to move North Dakota grain." The article also described Harrison as showing "a fiery, defiant side -- defending against what he said are sometimes inaccurate or misplaced reports of his railroad's shortcomings."

Goehring also was critical of Harrison for not attending an STB hearing Sept. 4 in Fargo, N.D. Instead, John Brooks, a vice president, was the CP representative.

CP, in its email response to Agweek, noted that Brooks attended the Fargo meeting, but didn't explain why Harrison was not there.

At the editorial board meeting, Goehring said Harrison has been too concerned with the company's profits and stock price, at the expense of serving customers.

Published accounts in the Canadian news media note that Harrison, who joined CP in 2012, has drastically restructured the company's operations. In May, CP extended his contract an additional year, until 2017.

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Goehring told Agweek on Oct. 1 that Brooks telephoned him Sept. 30 and that the two had a "positive" 20-minute discussion about possible solutions to rail problems in the state.

PAC contribution

Goehring, asked whether BNSF has contributed to his campaign, said he's received a $1,000 PAC contribution from the railway.

But that didn't influence his criticism of CP, he said.

"My seat can't be bought," he said. "Yeah, I've probably commended them (BNSF) for at least stepping up and having conversations and committing about trying to do something different. But I've always been critical of the fact that we haven't moved as much product."

Goehring, a Republican, is up for reelection this fall. Ryan Taylor, a Towner, N.D., rancher, is his Democratic opponent.

Taylor, asked for comment, said he attended the meetings with CP in both Minot and Fargo. "Definitely some difference in personality (with Harrison)," he said.

Taylor said that, if elected, he would focus less on personalities and more on finding solutions.

Like Goehring, he noted that while both BNSF and CP plan to invest in their respective North Dakota infrastructure, BNSF expects to invest more.

As for the $1,000, "It's in the nature of campaign finance for an incumbent agriculture commissioner" to receive PAC contributions, Taylor said.

"It's not up to me to say whether that's right or wrong, Taylor said, adding that his campaign hasn't received any such contributions.

Goehring also told Agweek on Oct. 1 that his campaign has received another $1,000 contribution from BNSF. He said he wasn't aware of the second contribution the previous day. The second contribution wasn't a factor in his criticism of CP, he said.

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