Grain Shippers Complain Of Rail Deficiencies

Beginning last year, grain shippers have been so concerned about what they are calling “system-wide rail service deterioration” and “excessive charges involving Class I railroads” that the National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA) sent a letter on March 10 to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) detailing shippers’ complaints.

The STB is a federal, bipartisan and independent board established in 1996 to assume the railroad- regulating functions of the Interstate Commerce Commission when it was abolished. The STB can regulate railroads’ rates and service; the construction, acquisition and abandonment of rail lines; carrier mergers; and interchange of traffic among carriers.

According to the NGFA, the cause of the problems is Class I railroads’ “aggressive effort to reduce their operating ratios to impress Wall Street investors and shareholders” that has “degraded service to unacceptable levels.”

Among the list of complaints detailed by the NGFA and its sister organization, the North American Millers’ Association:

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• “significant” transit delays and increased dwell time on BNSF trains;

• power and crew shortages in the Houston area and other corridors;

• “systemwide” problems with the Canadian National Railroad (CN), especially hitting first-mile/last-mile service;

• delays of 8 to 10 days in the last quarter of 2017 by the CNR;

• misrouting of cars to the wrong location by the CNR;

• similar long delays with CSX Transportation Company;

• a “precipitous” decline in service across the entire Norfolk Southern Railroad network;

• a similar serious decline in service by the Union Pacific Railroad, especially in the Houston area, along with locomotive breakdowns; and

• serious issues with moving single-care shipments in Iowa and Minnesota, “a situation that began in mid-summer and has continued.”

The letter complains of numerous new charges introduced by the Norfolk Southern and Canadian National railroads, such as a new $200 fee if the customer submits incomplete or erroneous customs documentation, a $1,000-per-day charge for overweight railcars, and a $275 charge for diverting railcars to different locations than originally requested.

The NGFA asked that the STB’s Office of Public Assistance, Government Affairs and Compliance  set up weekly calls with senior management of the affected railroads to address the issues.