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BNSF banks on bigger hopper fleet, ombudsman to reap grain-service rewards


Burlington Northern Santa Fe is preparing for the June 1 startup of the 2004 grain harvest by increasing capacity and tweaking operations — at a cost exceeding $250 million — to prevent car shortages encountered during last year's harvest.

The railroad is shifting capacity from guaranteed-capacity programs to increase tariff car availability by 11,000 during the six-month harvest. Grain shippers will be able to order cars within 10-day placement periods; BNSF will waive cancellation penalties if it fails to provide cars within that timeframe. To entice guaranteed-capacity program shippers, the Class I will reduce prepayments and late-delivery penalties.

BNSF also plans to add locomotives, crews and rail cars to its grain-carrying arsenal. The railroad will take delivery of 1,500 new covered hopper cars in fall and another 1,500 in early 2005.

"Last year's demand was bigger and came earlier than anticipated, which caused equipment capacity to be sold out in record levels," said Kevin Kaufman, BNSF group vice president, agricultural products, in a prepared statement. "We are confident that our customers will receive their cars within their 10-day order periods during this year's harvest."

To more quickly respond to shippers' needs, BNSF appointed an ombudsman — Jonathan Long — who will work directly with grain customers in North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota to investigate concerns and mediate disputes, beginning June 1. Long will report to General Director of Grain Operations Bryce Leigh and Kaufman.

"In conversations with shippers, and state and local officials, it became apparent that we needed a single point-of-contact to address customer concerns, explain policies and procedures, and provide feedback on BNSF programs and services," said Kaufman.

A 25-year BNSF veteran, Long most recently served in grain marketing. He previously served as a material handler, customer service representative and trainmaster, and held various positions in grain operations.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 5/5/2004