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Rail News: Shippers

Railroads earn commendable grade for latest grain harvest service performance, soy coalition says

Rail service for the 2014 harvest so far been a "pleasant surprise," according to the results of a recent grain shipper survey released by the Soy Transportation Coalition (STC).

In conjunction with the University of Minnesota, the STC is conducting a research project about grain transportation in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska that involves a bi-weekly survey of 42 grain receiving locations. The project aims to monitor and document rail service for the 2014 harvest, such as by identifying and estimating the impact of rail service on the profitability of each state’s agricultural industry and individual farmers.

Results of the most recent survey — conducted Nov. 21 to Dec. 5 — show 70 percent of respondents reported cycle times for railroads are faster than a year ago, and 48 percent recorded no past-due rail-car orders. In addition, no respondents reported "much more" storage pressure at their facilities while 88 percent said storage pressure was the same, less or much less, STC officials said in a press release. However, 60 percent of the respondents said they experienced rail service delays and diminishing storage capacity in response to the 2014 harvest.

"There are certainly opportunities for improvement moving forward, but railroads serving this particular area of the country should be commended for their performance up to this point," said STC Executive Director Mike Steenhoek.

Overall, the favorable rail performance can be attributed to the elongated harvest season, railroads' responses to heightened demand — primarily new investments in locomotives, track and personnel — farmers' decision to store more soybeans and grain, better weather and more modest harvest volumes than anticipated, STC officials said.

"[We] will continue to monitor rail performance over the next few months,” said Steenhoek. “We have been overall pleased with the service up this point in this area of the country [and] are hopeful this will continue."

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More News from 12/9/2014