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Senate transportation committee to hold hearing on grain-by-rail service issues


The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing Sept. 10 on U.S. rail service issues associated with transporting agricultural products, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) announced yesterday.

Titled, "Freight Rail Service - Improving the Performance of America's Rail System," the hearing will examine grain-car backlogs in South Dakota and throughout the farming region that have led to service disruptions for South Dakota farmers, ethanol producers, utilities and other businesses, said Thune, the committee's ranking member, in a press release.

"With the backlog in rail service and grain bins reaching capacity, South Dakota producers have limited storage options for both last year's and this year's expected record-breaking harvest," said Thune. "I will continue working with Chairman Rockefeller and the Surface Transportation Board [STB] to seek commitments from the railroads to address the backlog of grain orders to minimize the harm that South Dakota producers face in getting their crops to market."

Since the beginning of the year, the senator has worked with the STB, BNSF Railway Co., Canadian Pacific and the Rapid City, Pierre and Eastern Railroad to address grain service issues. The committee hearing will follow a STB field hearing to be conducted tomorrow in Fargo, N.D., that will enable shippers and the public "to reiterate the ongoing delays and what it means to agriculture, energy and other shippers," said Thune.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) yesterday called on CP to add resources to meet the growing demand for ag products shipping in North Dakota, and to change its method of reserving cars and tracking orders in a way that's more fair and transparent to shippers.

"We have pushed BNSF to add resources, which they are doing, and we are pushing CP to make the same kind of commitment to meeting the needs of our agriculture shippers," said Hoeven in a press release. "Our business needs are growing, so Canadian Pacific needs to be clear about how many more rail cars, locomotives and personnel they plan to devote to our market."

Hoeven and his staff have had ongoing discussions with CP officials this year to push for better service and more transparency in the system used to report backlogs, the senator said. Hoeven plans to make the same point at the STB hearing tomorrow in Fargo.

In their weekly reports to the STB, BNSF and CP officials say their respective railroads are making progress in reducing the grain-car backlogs. For example, in its report dated Aug. 29, BNSF showed past-due cars totaling 2,029, down 22.2 percent from the 2,609 cars reported on Aug. 22. CP's Aug. 29 report states that customers have removed 20,710 open requests from its system and the number of open requests stood at 9,010.

"Over the next couple of weeks, as other customers remove additional open requests we expect the number of open requests to continue to come down significantly," CP officials said in the report.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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