STB “Ups the Ante” for Railroads


All Class I railroads will soon be required to file weekly reports regarding service performance.

by Mary Kennedy, DTN Basis Analyst

OMAHA (DTN) — Beginning Oct. 22, all Class I railroads will be required to publicly file weekly data reports regarding service performance “to promote industry-wide transparency, accountability, and improved service,” the Surface Transportation Board announced on Oct. 8.

The order follows the board's recent public hearings regarding rail service issues, at which many rail shippers expressed concerns about the lack of publicly available rail service metrics and requested access to certain performance data from the railroads to help them better understand the scope, magnitude, and impact of the current service problems. The data collected pursuant to this order will give the board and interested parties a better real-time understanding of the current rail service issues.” Here is the link to the STB announcement:…

The announcement was welcomed by those in the industry who have been asking for more transparency and overall communication from the railroads.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne issued a statement saying, “This decision is a good first step toward addressing and understanding the severity of our rail service problems in the state. Greater transparency will no doubt lead to a more productive dialogue between shippers, railroads and farmers … and give all the stakeholders a better understanding of what each other faces. It may also help us pinpoint, and maybe even avoid, future bottlenecks in our rail system with all the real-time data exposed.”

The National Grain and Feed Association also commended the STB for requiring railroads to expand weekly public reporting of rail service performance,” including for the first time for nonagricultural products and to extend the reporting requirement to all Class I railroads. The new STB order also expands the scope and granularity of service metrics that all Class I railroads now will be required to report, and applies many of the reporting requirements to encompass coal, crude oil, ethanol, automotive, intermodal and manifest traffic.”

The NGFA added, “Importantly, the STB's order also requires collaborative reporting of detailed rail service metrics specific to the congestion at the Chicago terminal hub by the six Class I carriers operating at the Chicago gateway — BNSF, Union Pacific, CSXT, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National.”

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) issued a statement from CEO Edward R. Hamberger on Oct. 8 after the release of new STB requirements: “We are examining the STB decision. Since 1999, railroads have on a weekly basis voluntarily provided the STB and the public with railroad performance measures on terminal dwell time, velocity and cars online. It is unclear how the increased reporting requirements in today's order will in any way lead to improved service.

“Railroads are investing and hiring at an accelerated pace to provide the capacity needed to meet growing demand as traffic continues to rebound to pre-recession levels, continued Hamberger. “Hiring and training people, and building infrastructure take time. Railroads will continue to work with their customers to meet the demand to move more freight as America's economy continues to grow.”


Before STB issued its order on Oct. 8, shippers, industry leaders and state government figures at a recent STB hearing in Fargo, N.D., stressed the need to assess the reality of car backlogs and slow service in the U.S.

Bob Zelenka, executive director of Minnesota Grain and Feed, asked the STB at the Sept. 4 meeting to continue requiring the BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railroad to provide greater transparency through service metrics.

The National Corn Growers echoed that request, “NCGA is worried about the railroads' abilities to provide timely and efficient service during the upcoming fall harvest and heavy shipping period. As a result, we urge the board to continue to carefully monitor BNSF's and CP's grain service through the fall harvest and take additional actions, if needed.”

Eric Broten from Dazey, N.D., testifying on behalf of the American Soybean Association, said, “We support the request made by the ASA for the STB to require railroads to submit metrics showing past dues, average days late, turnaround times, etc. for agricultural customers vs. crude oil customers and other customers.

Oil train service was the one thing most people who testified at the 9 1/2-hour hearing on Sept. 4 wanted to know about. What was the level of service for oil trains, and were oil cars ever late like the backlog of grain cars? While the railroads present never answered that question, it's not difficult to figure out the answer if you live or travel in the northern part of North Dakota and Minnesota because nearly 75{28d451f77a4de8a52cd2586be6cc1800527fe70ea84e8b3f90098495d088e086} of the time, long trains of oil cars are all you see.

On July 26, the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper said, “Fifty oil trains, each loaded with more than 1 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil, pass through Minnesota each week, and almost all of them go through the Twin Cities, according to the first detailed reports on the state's crude-by-rail traffic obtained by the Star Tribune.

“The reports, submitted to state officials by railroads and stamped 'confidential,' say that oil trains can be more than 100 tank cars long as they pass through 39 of the state's 87 counties,” reported the Star Tribune. “The greatest concentration is on the BNSF Railway main line between Moorhead and the Twin Cities. Canadian Pacific, another railroad serving North Dakota's Bakken region, sends far fewer oil trains through the state, the data show.”

That may change in the near future on the CP. At a recent meeting of CP investors, CEO Hunter Harrison's presentation said that, energy products are expected to buoy revenue and the CP may carry as many as 200,000 carloads of crude oil in 2015, which is more than double what the railroad moved in 2013.


In his weekly podcast, John Miller, Ag VP for BNSF said, “We have completed forming all shuttles for fall harvest and they are in use in the market place. We are flowing soybeans to the PNW to meet vessel demand and turn times have rebounded back over 2.5 TPM in that area.”

“With shuttles fully built and operational, general fleet car can be directed toward single and unit car orders,” added Miller. “We expect past dues to stabilize as car supplies recover to meet demand.” Miller said that current delays are a result of harvest demand and noted that overall volumes so far this harvest exceed volumes seen last year at this time in North and South Dakota. Here is the link to the weekly service update to the STB:…

In their update to the STB for the week of Oct. 10, the CP stated, “We continue to experience extended dwell within the grain supply chain. This includes origins in North Dakota for wheat shipments east, rail interchange locations and destination unloading at mills and export terminals. We are working with the shippers, facilities and other railroads involved to improve the situation, both at origin and destination. Overall rail capacity is reduced when cars sit idle. This is because any delay in the supply chain results in fewer trains or cars in the cycle.” Here is a link to the complete update by the CP to the STB:


© Copyright 2014 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.
Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp


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