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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton plans to hold a Rail Summit Nov. 17 with railroad and agriculture industry representatives, as well as elected officials, emergency managers and key members of the governor’s cabinet. The summit will focus on strengthening Minnesota’s rail safety measures, easing the backlog of ag product shipments on the state’s railways and identifying needed improvements to freight-rail infrastructure in the state, Dayton said in a press release. “Minnesota’s crowded railways pose a number of very serious challenges to the safety of our citizens and the continued vitality of our commerce,” he said. “From ensuring adequate supplies of coal to utilities we rely upon for heat and electricity, to shipping harvested grain and other agricultural products to markets, the capacity and safety issues on our railways affect all Minnesotans.”Last week, Dayton joined U.S Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) to urge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to bring together railroad and electric utility representatives to discuss coal delivery issues that are impacting some utilities' stockpiles. BNSF Railway Co. needs to fix its coal-service issues to ensure reliable deliveries, the politicians said in a joint release. "Utilities in our state are restricting the operation of coal-fired plants for the sole reason of conserving existing coal stockpiles — stockpiles that have grown dangerously low due to BNSF’s ongoing delivery problems,” they wrote in a letter to FERC. “The rail service problem has persisted, in varying degrees of severity, for more than a year. With winter fast approaching, Minnesota utilities cannot tolerate watching fuel stockpiles fall to under one week — as they did last winter."Over the past two years, BNSF has invested record levels of capital to meet the growing demands of its customers, and the railroad expects to continue investing heavily to ensure its network grows for the benefit of customers, BNSF officials said in an emailed statement."While there is more work to be done, we know that our efforts are paying off and service levels are steadily improving," they said. "We expect that in 2014, we will deliver more freight than ever before and we are confident that the infrastructure we are building today will forever make BNSF a stronger, more capable railroad."
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