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The Surface Transportation Board (STB) yesterday announced plans to hold a public field hearing on Sept. 4 in Fargo, N.D., to provide interested parties the opportunity to discuss rail service problems associated with certain agricultural products, primarily grain.In addition, the hearing will include updates from BNSF Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific executives on their respective railroad's efforts to address service problems, and a discussion on additional options to improve rail service, STB officials said in a press release.The board has directed BNSF and CP officials to appear at the hearing, which will be open to the public. The STB also invited representatives from impacted shippers, other Class Is and other affected carriers to attend.Farmers and representatives of agricultural producers have expressed concerns about delayed fertilizer deliveries, backlogged grain-car orders and delayed shipments of loaded grain cars, STB officials said in a decision rendered yesterday. Reported impacts resulting from service 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 U.S. agricultural industry, they said.The STB as been closely monitoring railroads' performance and has taken a number of formal and informal actions to address the concerns. On April 10, the board held a hearing during which rail industry representatives described several factors that contributed to the deterioration of rail service, including strained track capacity, unexpected volume growth, personnel shortages, a lack of locomotives, severe winter weather and congestion at major gateways, especially in Chicago, STB officials said.Following the hearing, the board issued orders requiring BNSF and CP to provide their respective plans and supporting data regarding the movement of fertilizers and grain. In addition, the board's Office of Public Assistance, Governmental Affairs and Compliance has been working with railroads to address and correct service issues as they arise.The STB has continued to monitor BNSF's and CP’s progress in moving the 2013 grain crop. Recognizing the limited time until the next harvest and the large quantities of grain that remained to be moved, the STB on June 20 directed both Class Is to provide and/or update their respective plans to reduce the backlog of unfilled grain car orders and resolve grain-car delays, as well as provide weekly status reports regarding the transportation of grain on their networks.
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