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Railroads blamed for lack of coal, grain shipments at federal hearing
Railroad executives were on the hot seat today at a federal regulatory hearing in Fargo. Mike Simonson reports.
They’ve been told to shape up their shipping of coal and grain before winter. Wisconsin Public Service Corporation’s Dave Wanner told Surface Transportation Board members that rail shipments of coal are 50% slower than last year.
“Now as a result we’ve reinstituted our coal conservation measures in mid-August which is adding to the millions of dollars that these measures have already cost our customers.”
Wanner says they’re taking electrical production units in Weston and Columbia off-line.
In a phone interview with WPR, Minnesota Power spokesman Pat Mullen says they’re shutting down four units for three months. He thinks Bakken oil shipments are taking priority.
“I don’t know that they’ve done the best that they can and it’s a challenge for them, I’m sure. But I’m sure every industry has their own reason why theirs should be the most important. But this is a really big deal for us and our customers.”
He says BNSF railway has let them know this is a long-term problem.
Minnesota Congressman Colin Peterson says farmers aren’t able to get enough rail service to ship grain.
“There is a lot of nervousness out there within the farming community about what’s going to happen this fall and how big of a problem this is going to be.”
Canadian Pacific Railroad’s John Brooks says they’re doing the best they can, juggling cargoes including a large increase in Bakken oil.
“There’s no excuse and we understand. There are orders that are out there that are old and need to be filled and will be filled. But part of the effort has got to be getting our arms around the reality out there of what these are. We realize we created this with our system, not our shippers. It’s not their fault.”
But Surface Transportation Board Member Ann Begeman says railroads have to meet grain and coal obligations.
“You really haven’t made any progress. I know that you’ve been serving customers. You’ve moved like 18,000 carloads since you began reporting. But your timeline didn’t change until your customers started canceling orders.”
The Board can decide to issue an emergency order to direct railroads to carry certain cargo, but that power is rarely used. A spokesman says they are hoping for private sector solutions.
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