BNSF pledges $6 billion in railway improvements


by David Murray, Great Falls Tribune

Three of the top industries driving Montana’s economy — coal, agriculture and oil — rely heavily upon rail to deliver their products.

However, industry executives have increasingly voiced concerns over the past two years about the nation’s largest rail carrier, Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s ability to bring those products to market in a timely and cost-effective manner.

“The Northern Tier is suffering the worst service meltdown in modern history,” Northern Plains Resource Council rail consultant, Terry Whiteside said in a 2013 interview with the Billings Gazette, “and it started with surging … coal and oil shipments in 2012.”

The explosive growth of oil field production in North Dakota — which is now only second to Texas in total domestic oil production — combined with record wheat harvests and a resurgent coal industry have prompted a rail capacity shortage in Montana.

This became particularly noticeable last fall, when the 2013 wheat crop began making its way to grain terminals in the Pacific Northwest. U.S. corn farmers produced a record crop that year. Canada’s grain crop was 50 percent larger than in 2012, and the Northern Tier wheat crop surpassed $1 billion in value for the fourth time in five years.

Both grain cars and track space were in short supply, and many elevators were forced to store thousands of tons of grain on the ground — potentially reducing both its quality and value.

On Wednesday, a senior executive with BNSF told those in attendance at the Montana Grain Growers Association that the nation’s largest railroad is taking these shortfalls seriously.

“The absolute answer to all of this is, we’re going to expand the railroad,” said John Miller, vice-president of Industrial Products Sales for BNSF. “Energy expansion, coal expansion, truck-to-rail and grain expansion.”

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Source: Great Falls Tribune

Posted by Jami Howell

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