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Monday, October 20, 2014

U.S. STB action needed for transparency on rail shipments

by Traci Eatherton, WLJ Managing Editor

Producers, farmers and elevator operators, along with a number of politicians, are optimistic that an improved reporting system for railroads will at least allow agricultural shippers to see whether they’re getting the same kind of service as oil, coal and other industries.

On Oct. 8, the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) took new action that will require transparency from all railroads nationwide by having them reveal more data about their rail shipment delays of all products, including agriculture, energy and other commodities.

“The board agrees that there is a need for broader standardized performance data from the railroad industry as it continues to address existing service challenges,” says the order, signed by the entire threeperson STB.

The order requires all Class I railroads—which includes the largest railroads in the U.S., including Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe— throughout the country to release more data of all rail shipments, not just agriculture shipments, moving forward. This data includes average speeds, dwell times, number of cars loaded and emptied, weekly number of grain cars ordered, loaded, billed, overdue and cancelled by state, and more.

Such data will allow the STB to see any changes in delays of agriculture shipments, and if there are similar delays of other products, such as crude oil and coal.

U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has played a role in the political pressure on the agency since North Dakota is one of the states struggling with ag rail shipping backlogs.

The order comes on the heels of an STB field hearing last month in Fargo, a result of Heitkamp’s work since last February to hold railroads accountable for agriculture shipment delays. At the hearing, Heitkamp stressed the need to end the backlog in North Dakota, where agriculture represents a quarter of the state’s economy.

STB also heard serious concerns from farmers, processors, grain elevators and elected officials about the substantial impacts of delays on the rails—including delays in coal shipments, which have caused energy prices to rise for consumers in the state, and difficulties for producers to meet orders that have been placed throughout the country.

“For more than eight months, our farmers and grain elevators have lost out because of serious agriculture shipment delays across the state,” said Heitkamp. “To stop these delays, prevent them in the future, and help our farmers do their jobs, we need to hold the railroads accountable. Over the past several months, I’ve been in regular contact with STB Chairman (Dan) Elliott and pressed him to look at the delays in our state and determine if there’s anything the agency can do. Today, the STB is taking needed action to hold the railroads accountable, require more transparency from the rail roads on all products shipped on the rails, and make sure all products— whether grain, oil, coal, or anything else—are treated equally and fairly in how they are transported. Chairman Elliott understands the serious consequences of delays on the rails, and he and I will continue to work together to make sure we can reduce this backlog so our nation’s producers, processors, and their families continue to thrive.”

According to Heitkamp, as of last week, BNSF and Canadian Pacific each reported nearly 3,000 pastdue cars in North Dakota alone. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor

 
 


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