BNSF boosts shuttles
Grain elevators continue to struggle with slow rail service, but large shuttle train shipments sped up last week, according to a weekly Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Inc. report.
John Miller, vice president for BNSF Railway’s agricultural group, in a weekly podcast Feb. 27 said the company continues to “reset the network balance” of railroad cars and locomotives to manage through weather-related issues.
Miller says customers were notified Feb. 20 that a predicted return to cold temperatures would hamper equipment velocities, particularly in the north. He says there are also problems with throughput in the Chicago network caused by previous weather events and heavy volume. He says the company is shifting some traffic through Memphis and St. Louis, and that wet conditions in the Pacific Northwest have hampered unloading there at some facilities.
Miller says U.S. past-due grain car shipments last week increased to 11,698 throughout its system — up 632 cars from the previous week. The U.S. average past-due car count increased to 17.9 days, up from 15.4 the previous week. A past-due shipment is every single car that is at least four days past the “want date” requested by the elevator or shipper.
Past-due shipments in North Dakota increased to 5,512 — up by 451 cars from the previous week. The average North Dakota delay is 18.6 days per car, which increased from 17 days late the previous week.
Montana past-dues increased to 2,434 — up 15 cars from the week before. Montana past-dues were an average of 18.8 days late, a slight improvement from 19 days late reported the previous week.
BNSF reported 1,204 average past-dues in South Dakota, down 213 cars from the previous week, with an average of 18.6 days late, up from 16.4 days late the previous week. In Minnesota, there were 1,349 past-due cars, up 124 cars from the previous week with 18.8 average days late, compared with 14.3 the previous week.
Shuttle train boost
Shuttle trains showed some improvements, which is increasingly important for commodities headed to the Pacific Northwest.
System-wide, BNSF shuttle trips were able to turn around 2.2 times per month, a slightly faster turnaround than the two reported the previous week. Grain industry officials typically expect the shuttles to turn around about three times a month.
Steve Strege, executive vice president of the North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, says he hasn’t heard any reports of significant relief, but he hears the horror stories. The organization has encouraged members to report conditions to the federal Surface Transportation Board.
Delane Thom, regional manager for Southwest Grain near Gladstone, N.D., says the situation is “horrible and it’s stayed that way.” He says his company has been in direct contact with BNSF.