Backlogs and bottlenecks on major railroads, partially resulting from recent severe weather, are limiting cash grain movement across the U.S. this winter, according to Dow Jones newswires.

The Association of American Railroads said domestic grain movement by rail was down 5.6 percent last month, when compared to January 2004.

"Even under the best of circumstances, freight railroading is extremely demanding. Throw in torrential rain and mudslides, blizzards and bitter cold - as we had in January in different parts of the country - and maintaining fluid operations becomes that much more difficult," said association Vice President Craig Rockey.

Union Pacific (UNP), the nation's largest rail freight carrier, was forced to completely close two major sections of storm-damaged track in California and Nevada for several weeks, while effecting repairs.

"We are still assessing the financial impact of the storm," said Union Pacific chairman Dick Davidson. "However, at this time our best estimate is that it could approach, or even exceed, $200 million in total."

Meanwhile, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNI) has announced that it will offer no guaranteed grain cars for April delivery and will suspend offers for May delivery, in order to evaluate the availability of capacity. BNSF has also suspended shuttle and destination efficiency train offers for delivery in March, April and May.

A grain transportation report released Thursday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said BNSF suspended these services due to difficulties in "keeping up with grain transportation demand, because of a combination of winter storms, derailments and deliveries to more distant locations during January."

For instance, the USDA said BNSF deliveries of grain to Mexico and the Pacific Northwest - export destinations which require several additional days of turnaround time - have increased, while deliveries of interior-originated bushels to much closer Texas Gulf terminals have decreased.

On Feb. 8, BNSF reported 17,485 grain cars past due an average of 22.3 days, compared with a prior three-year average for that week of 7,702 grain cars past due an average of 10.3 days.

The USDA said BNSF does not expect to catch up with grain transportation demand until June.