In order to address fertilizer delivery capacity issues, BNSF Railway will add 110 jumbo hopper cars to its existing fertilizer fleet, better manage crew availability at facilities, and work to improve turnaround time at those facilities, it said this week.
The Surface Transportation Board had given Canadian Pacific and BNSF until Friday to report their plans for fertilizer delivery to make sure U.S. farmers have enough shipments to ensure the successful spring planting of crops.
The decision stems from an April 10 hearing during which famers and agricultural officials detailed a pressing need for fertilizer and tight spring planting deadlines.
“This directive is intended to focus each carrier’s attention on these very time-sensitive deliveries,” the board said in its ruling, “while the carriers simultaneously work to address the extensive service and car supply issues for all commodities and to get those commodities moving on the rail network.”
In an update to the STB dated April 16, the railway said it started imposing the service improvements on April 12. So far, it said, progress has been made toward the railroad’s goal of moving 52 trainloads of fertilizer over the next six weeks. Each trainload will consist of between 65 cars and 85 cars, it said. BNSF will allocate 21 trainloads to South Dakota, with 10 trainloads going to North Dakota, six to Minnesota and two to Montana; the balance, it said, will be shipped to other states.
“We are working to deliver high volumes of fertilizer into the marketplace as quickly as we can,” BNSF wrote in a service update to the board.
Starting April 25, the two railroads are to provide weekly status reports outlining the delivery of fertilizer.
“As part of these status reports, CP and BNSF shall provide fertilizer delivery data, by state, indicating the number of cars, shipped or received, which are billed to agricultural destinations, and the number of cars placed during each prior week,” STB said in its ruling. “CP and BNSF shall also include actual performance versus trip plan data for fertilizer shipments.”
At the April 10 hearing, Kevin Thompson, chairman of the National Grain and Feed Association’s rail shipper/receiver committee, said that the fertilizer issues are just one of the many problems agriculture shippers are currently facing. The NGFA wants its 1,000 members to confront service issues with their carriers on a one-on-one basis, but the organization felt that it needed to get involved in the current service issues, which are “unprecedented,” he said.
“Rail service disruptions, which began well before the onset of harsh winter weather, have been widespread and severe. In the west, shippers served by BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific have been particularly hard hit – especially in areas like North and South Dakota, Montana and parts of Minnesota where there are few, if any, viable alternatives for moving grain, grain products and fertilizer.”
He told the board that CP has been significantly tardy in providing needed West Coast services, and that BNSF “only now is starting to provide certificate of transportation -- or COT -- trains that shippers had paid to have delivered in late January or early February.
“The NGFA,” he continued, “has also received repeated reports of locomotives being de-linked from trains and cars sitting loaded, but idled, at grain facilities for weeks on end.”
In written comments to the board for the April 10 hearing, a representative of the Fertilizer Institute wrote that oversight is needed to ensure that the railroads follow up on their service-improvement plans.
“TFI and its members want BNSF and CP to provide shippers with a clearly-defined plan as to how and when they expect to correct the existing service problems and what they are doing to avoid a recurrence in the future,” the organization wrote. “The information provided by the railroads to date has been wholly inadequate.”