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Big problems facing farmers with grain car backlog

August 29, 2014

Grain takes back-burner to oil transport

By BRYCE MARTIN | Pioneer Editor |

North Dakota’s massive energy exploration is providing a large problem for farmers and agriculture-based businesses as the reliance of grain shipment via railcars is being seriously undercut by oil transport.

Rail cars are being delayed at a growing rate, according to local farmers, because of increased oil transport by railway from deposits in the Bakken. The resulting backlog is set to intensify as farmers prepare their harvests in the coming weeks.

It was detailed in an Aug. 22 government report that the state’s largest railroad, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, had a backlog of more than 1,300 rails.

That translates into millions of dollars potentially lost by local farmers and businesses, according to the state.

Doug Archer, the new general manager of Scranton Equity in Scranton, said he is an advocate for the Keystone XL pipeline to ease this burden over the long term.

The construction of the controversial pipeline would free up a lot of congestion on the railways as oil could then be transported across the country by pipe.

“The less oil they move by rail is better for grain transport,” Archer said. “We’re moving grain all the time. If we have trains coming and nobody hauling grain to us, that’s a problem.”

N.D. Rep. Kevin Cramer said on Monday that the most recent figures released by BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) shows some progress being made, but there is still concern.

The figures from BNSF showed a total of 1,336 past due rail cars in North Dakota, averaging 10.2 days late as of Aug. 22, compared to a report released last week that indicated 1,262 cars were past due, averaging 19.6 days late.

The CP report showed a total of 10,266 open requests in North Dakota, with an average age of 12.71 weeks.

The company’s previous report showed 21,518 open requests with an average age of 12.7 weeks.

“I remain concerned about the ability of the rail system to handle a harvest which is just beginning to accelerate,” Cramer said in a statement. “The upcoming weeks will be crucial for agriculture producers, who need their crops to get to market in a timely manner.”

The two major North Dakota rail companies were ordered in June by the Surface Transportation Board to report their plans for resolving the backlog of grain car orders, and begin issuing weekly status reports until the problem is resolved.