Grain cars tied up on BNSF tracks

Published: Jul. 16, 2018 at 8:40 PM CDT
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The Surface Transportation Board says there's a backlog of more than a thousand grain cars running at least a day late in North Dakota.

That's creating a backlog at a time when there's an all-time high in oil production.

BNSF's numbers as reported on July 11 show more than 800 grain cars are one to 10 days late, and another 200 are 11 or more days behind schedule.

BNSF says, however, that the backlog situation is normal for this time of year.

When oil production last peaked in 2014 more than 800,000 barrels of oil per day were being moved by rail and the Dakota Access Pipeline had not been completed.

"Before some of the big expansion work on the rail lines themselves, and when crude by rail was at it's peak there was definite congestion so there was challenges on all commodity fronts, whether that was ag products, energy products," said Justin Kringstad, North Dakota Pipeline Authority director.

With the opening of DAPL, a majority of oil is now moving out of state through pipelines. About 250,000 barrels per day are still being moved by rail. With oil production hitting all time highs once more, some fear we will start to see service interruptions again.

"They all use the same rail lines, the same engine power, so as the economy shifts sometimes you get intermodal pressure on there, sometimes you get oil or coal competing for track space and engine power, and so we'll see how that plays out through harvest," said Jim Peterson, North Dakota Wheat Commission marketing director.

BNSF says they have invested $1.4 billion into their North Dakota network in the last five years to prevent congestion for their customers.

"We had service issues that impacted across commodities, because we just simply don't favor one over another," said Amy McBeth, BNSF North Dakota public affairs director.

BNSF says maintenance season could be the cause of some backlog and track work should wrap up before harvest begins.

BNSF says it plans to invest an additional $60 million this year on its North Dakota rail network.