Railroads Pick Up Steam


by Mary Kenndy, DTN Basis Analyst

OMAHA (DTN) — With improved service and fewer customer complaints, the holiday season has been a merrier time for U.S. railroads than at other times throughout the year.

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) told the Surface Transportation Board in a letter on Dec. 24 that, “Overall, our U.S. network is in good operating condition. Terminal dwell is down. Grain loadings have improved week over week, and dedicated grain cycle times are in line with plan.”

The CP went on to report that with respect to the Rapid City, Pierre & Eastern Railroad (RCP&E), the locomotive balance varies from day to day but approaches equilibrium. “We fulfilled 194 of 300 RCP&E grain car requests this reporting week. The episodic flow of returning empty grain cars from the east affects our ability to satisfy these requests. We will continue to work with our interchange carriers and the other components of the supply chain to balance these flows.”

Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association, told the Grand Forks Herald that service complaints about the railroads have been “fairly quiet.”

“Unit train loaders have been getting pretty good service and less-than shuttles are experiencing delays — but it's been two to three weeks rather than four to eight weeks,” Zelenka said. But many farmers have slowed selling as they wait for the new tax year, or better prices, which leaves less grain to ship right now. Zelenka said that because of farmers keeping grain home, elevators that bought freight for January and February might not be able to use it and might have to sell it in the secondary freight market.

The BNSF reported Monday that shuttle turns per month to the Pacific Northwest were at 2.5 TPM. While this is slightly lower than the previous week, the desired shuttle turnaround time for the BNSF is being met. In their service update prior to Christmas, the BNSF said, “Total volume was heavy with a robust 210,998 units in Week 50. This represents our second-highest weekly total of the year, and our 20th week in 2014 that total volume has exceeded 200,000 units. System-wide on-time performance held steady at 74{18648621dc58566f60964eb5074c58f5f97501fe95033d5d25ee4862e704a74a} for the week. Intermodal on-time performance was slightly below the system-wide result at 72.3{18648621dc58566f60964eb5074c58f5f97501fe95033d5d25ee4862e704a74a}.”


The intermodal performance is still affected by the ongoing labor dispute on the West Coast. The container ports involved in the current contract talks are Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Tacoma. Meetings prior to Christmas between the International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) did not provide any solutions in the contract negotiations.

The PMA asked for federal mediation on Dec. 22 and in a statement posted on their website said, “After seven months of negotiations, we remain far apart on many issues. At the same time, the union continues its slowdowns, walk-offs and other actions that are having impacts on shippers, truck drivers and other local workers — with no end in sight.”

On Dec. 29, the PMA released this statement on their website: “The ILWU's press release today underscores the need for federal mediation in these negotiations. Unfortunately, the characterization that the PMA and ILWU have only a 'few issues' left to resolve is inaccurate. Significant issues remain unresolved, including wages, pensions, jurisdiction and work rules. Further, the ILWU's escalating rhetoric on congestion is nothing more than a smokescreen for its slowdown activities.”

“Given the lack of progress at the table, the ILWU's continuation of debilitating work slowdowns and the impact those actions are having on businesses throughout America, it's clear that mediation is required to resolve the many issues that remain at the bargaining table.” CLICK HERE for the link to the full Dec. 29 press release by the PMA: 

In response to the ongoing labor issues on the PNW, Zelenka agrees that should that stay unresolved and tensions rise, delays could return, especially with traffic in and out of the West Coast. “If you slow down anything in this tight system, it backs up and affects everything,” Zelenka said.



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Posted by Jami Howell

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