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U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) on Monday hosted a roundtable meeting in Minot with Canadian Pacific Chief Executive Officer E. Hunter Harrison, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), North Dakota Lieutenant Gov. Drew Wrigley, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring and agricultural product producers to discuss ways to improve rail service and relieve the grain-car backlog in North Dakota.North Dakota currently ranks as CP’s top state for farm commodity shipments, according to Hoeven. The senator emphasized the importance of addressing the car backlog prior to the upcoming fall harvest, "which will significantly increase the demands on the already overburdened rail system," he said in a press release."North Dakota is a dynamic, growing state and that means agriculture and other freight shipments have grown commensurately," said Hoeven. "We need to sit down like this to discuss what steps are and can be taken to eliminate backlogs and get agriculture shipments on schedule for producers, especially with the fall harvest fast approaching."Sen. Heitkamp believes CP needs to make a more concerted effort to address agriculture shipment delays that "are causing preventable challenges for farmers and shippers across the state," she said in a press release. Since the Surface Transportation Board began monitoring the progress of service improvements implemented by CP and BNSF Railway Co., CP's open requests for grain cars went from a reported 23,818 in June to 22,457 in August, "a mere 5 percent improvement," said Heitkamp. She believes there's a strong case for CP to commit to a plan that will address current concerns and determine a long-term solution to prevent any future backlogs. "For North Dakota farmers and shippers to transport their crop in the coming weeks, it’s imperative that Canadian Pacific begins to make significant improvements and commit to decreasing backlog and wait times," said Heitkamp. "We have received far too little information from the company about the status of its delayed agriculture shipments and the efforts to address them. We need transparency and an open dialogue between North Dakota farmers and Canadian Pacific about what steps are being taken to accommodate the coming harvest and specifics about the extent of delays in North Dakota."CP officials previously stated that the Class I remains focused on moving as much grain as possible and communicating with customers across its network. CP is committed to having the necessary resources in place for the fall harvest, and is focused on ongoing improvements in train velocity and effective utilization of the rail-car fleet to deliver more cars each week, railroad officials said in statements issued earlier this month.The Minot meeting followed a similar roundtable discussion Hoeven organized on Aug. 7 in Fargo with BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose, Heitkamp and others about grain-by-rail service. Although BNSF has made progress with its grain-car backlog and expects the backlog to drop to less than 2,000 cars by October, more needs to be done, Heitkamp and Hoeven believe.
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