BNSF, CP ordered to report U.S. grain shipping plans

Reuters — U.S. officials ordered BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) to report by Friday their plans to clear a backlog of grain cars after months of service delays blamed on harsh winter weather and high freight demand.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board decision filed late last week also ordered that the two class I carriers provide a timeline for resolving the backlog and submit detailed weekly status reports on grain car orders and deliveries.

The board said data submitted so far by both railroads, the dominant carriers in the northern U.S. Plains and Midwest, have shown some improvement in service, but more action was needed.

“The board remains very concerned about the limited time period until the next harvest, the large quantities of grain yet to be moved, and the railroads’ paths toward meeting their respective commitments,” the rail-dispute arbiter said.

Grain storage bins in states like Montana, Minnesota and North and South Dakota are still brimming with last year’s harvest because of poor rail service. Shippers have racked up thousands of dollars in late-delivery penalties and farmers have lost out on profits because burdensome supplies have depressed local grain prices.

BNSF, which has been voluntarily reporting some grain car service statistics on its website every week since February, will supply the board with the requested information, spokeswoman Amy Casas said.

CP is still reviewing the order and will respond directly to the agency later this week, spokesman Ed Greenberg said.

The decision was similar to an earlier ruling requiring BNSF and CP to provide progress reports for fertilizer shipments this spring.

The agency stopped short of setting grain hauling quotas for the railroads as some U.S. grain shippers wanted.

Canadian officials set grain shipping quotas for its two major railways to help clear a grain glut there. [Related story]

Reporting for Reuters by Karl Plume in Chicago.

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