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BNSF reports further delays

FARGO — A BNSF Railway weekly report on late cars released March 28, contains results that it fell further behind for the fourth week in a row for the four-state area. It also reports worsening impending issues with the winter wheat harvest coming in June.

John Miller, BNSF vice president for agriculture, said the group continues to see “gradual improvement across the system with grain loadings increasing week-over-week for the past two weeks.” He said flow to the Pacific Northwest was stronger, the result of “continued locomotive availability, along with little impact from either weather or other service interruptions.”

Specifically, Miller talked about experiencing a “high volume of grain shipments in and around Grand Forks, N.D., have been impacted by line capacity and crew rest challenges.”

Vance Taylor, manager of the North Dakota Mill and Elevator in Grand Forks, said transit times are “still slow.” Taylor said the mill’s “K-Mill” — one of seven milling systems in the state-owned facility — is down for a scheduled refurbishing, which is easing pressure on outgoing transit. He said the mill is seeing increased transit times.

Other critical areas that are “challenged for resources and line capacity” during the week were Hettinger, Sioux Falls, S.D., Aberdeen, S.D., and parts of Montana. Miller said those areas were affected by ongoing capital projects in Montana between Forsyth and Billings.

“As we know, winter wheat harvest is fast approaching,” Miller said, foreshadowing issues during the harvest in states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, which typically starts in June. “In past years when there was plenty of available freight, we have been able to strategically preposition covered cars to meet harvest demand. Due to the car order backlog we are currently experiencing, this year, we will have limited availability to preposition cars.”

Despite Miller’s references to improved shipments, the shuttle shipments, which are 110- or 120-cars for grain, only improved to the Gulf of Mexico, rising to 2.8 turns per month, which is getting closer to the goal of three turns per month, Miller said. Meanwhile, turns to the Pacific Northwest declined to 1.9 per month, down from two the previous three weeks, and the overall turns remained at 2.1. Miller didn’t mention turns to California or West Texas.

As of March 29 in North Dakota, 7,541 cars were late, accounting for 46 percent of all late cars nationwide for BNSF.

That is up more than 2,000 cars (37 percent) from the Feb. 27 podcast — a month earlier — when sub-zero temperatures were one of the chief reasons offered by the railroad.

Those cars were an average of 22.8 days late, up 1.4 days from the previous week, and 4.2 days longer than the month-ago status.

In Montana, 3,468 cars were late, accounting for 21 percent of all BNSF late cars nationwide.