Surface Transportation Board to hold rail hearing in N.D.

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The federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) announced that it will hold a public hearing on the rail service problems on Sept. 4 in Fargo, N.D. The STB held a previous hearing in Washington, D.C., which ASA and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association testified.

The hearing announcement can be viewed by clicking here. The STB has directed Canadian Pacific (CP) and BNSF to appear at the hearing. Impacted shippers, Class I railroads and other affected carriers are invited to testify and the hearing will be open for public observation. The STB has recognized the concerns raised by ASA and agricultural interests as evidenced by the following excerpts included in the formal hearing notice:

“The Board has been closely monitoring the rail industry’s performance since service problems began to emerge last year, and has taken a number of actions, both formal and informal to address those problems. The Board’s Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance (OPAGAC) has been working with rail carriers to address and correct service issues as they arise. Representatives of OPAGAC have held numerous meetings and conference calls with affected parties to better understand the specific problems shippers are facing, and to help facilitate a quick resolution whenever possible. OPAGAC’s outreach has included confidential, one-on-one meetings with affected stakeholders in Fargo, N.D., Sioux Falls, S.D., Bloomington, Minn., and Malta, Mont.

…Earlier this year, the Board Members wrote to BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP) to express their concerns that poor service was negatively affecting agricultural, coal, passenger, and other traffic. At the Board’s request, senior management representatives of BNSF and CP have met individually with Board Members on a number of occasions, and the Board requested certain additional reporting data from the two railroads…

…A large number of shippers representing many different commodities expressed concerns about service during the hearing. Farmers and representatives of agricultural producers expressed concern about the negative effects of delayed fertilizer deliveries, backlogged grain car orders, and delayed shipments of loaded grain cars. Reported impacts resulting from these delays include little to no storage capacity at many grain elevators, risks of stored grain spoiling, lost sales, financial loss related to underutilization of shuttle trains, penalties incurred by grain shippers for products not delivered on time, buyers shifting to foreign suppliers, and damage to the reputation of the United States agricultural industry…

…The Board has continued to monitor CP’s and BNSF’s progress in moving the 2013 crop. Recognizing the limited time until the next harvest, the large quantities of grain that remained to be moved, and the Board’s concerns about the railroads’ paths towards meeting their respective commitments, on June 20, 2014, the Board directed CP and BNSF to provide and/or update their respective plans to reduce the backlog of unfilled grain car orders, to resolve grain car delays, and to provide weekly status reports regarding the transportation of grain on their networks (for CP, on its United States network).”

BNSF has made considerable documented progress in reducing not only the number of backlogged orders, but also the average number of days late for such orders. Most of BNSF’s remaining backlogged orders are now less than 20 days late, and the majority of those orders are less than 10 days late. BNSF has also committed to a substantial infrastructure investment and has reallocated resources to improve its service performance.

CP’s reporting does not substantiate similar progress.

The full formal notice can be viewed here.

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