Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published February 11 2014
BNSF Railway promises to take steps to ease logjam of rail shipments in NDGRAND FORKS – BNSF Railway promised Tuesday to provide more locomotives and workers in the next few weeks to break the logjam of rail shipments that has dismayed North Dakota farmers and forced the detour of passenger trains through the state.
In a meeting with North Dakota’s congressional delegation and agricultural leaders in Washington, BNSF Executive Director Matt Rose said the railroad would invest $5 billion in new resources this year, including $600 million in North Dakota.
He also agreed to end the detour of westbound Amtrak passenger trains by Feb. 28. The detours meant the train has not stopped in Grand Forks, Devils Lake or Rugby the past few weeks and passengers have been bused there instead.
In a notice on its website, Amtrak said both the eastbound and westbound trains also will experience significant delays.
Since mid-January, all westbound Amtrak traffic has been detoured at Fargo to the New Rockford line, which runs diagonally between Fargo and Minot.
All eastbound traffic has been traveling on the northern route through the state, with stops in Williston, Stanley, Minot, Rugby, Devils Lake, Grand Forks and Fargo.
BNSF’s promised investments would mean:
E 5,000 new maintenance workers, including 250 in North Dakota.
E 500 new locomotives as well as another 125 temporary locomotives to be dispatched to North Dakota within the next two weeks.
E 5,000 new rail cars.
The railroad said it will check on suitable cars for shipments by the American Crystal Sugar Co., which has plants in Grand Forks and the northern and central Red River Valley. The Moorhead-based co-op estimates that only half of the cars it usually has are positioned at customer locations.
Past-due orders will be posted on BNSF’s website for agricultural shippers to improve communication between growers and their customers.
North Dakota growers have expressed concern that they aren’t getting timely service to ship their products, the delegation said. Under normal conditions, rail cars arrive to pick up grain within three to four days of a prearranged schedule. Currently, they are being delayed up to three weeks. When delays are longer than the prearranged schedule, the end user imposes a fine, which is absorbed by growers.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who hosted the meeting, said BNSF plans to build about 66 miles of new track in North Dakota.
“Their long-term plan is a good one,” the senator said after the meeting. “They’ve seen such growth that they haven’t been able to keep up. The challenge is getting caught up in the near term.”
Besides Rose and the delegation, others participating in the meeting were John Doxsie, president of United Sugars; Jim Johnson, president of the U.S. Beet Sugar Association; Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union; David Berg, CEO and president of American Crystal; and Dan Wogsland of the North Dakota Agriculture Rail Council.