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Thousands of rail cars behind on grain shipments

WASHINGTON -- Nearly 5,000 rail cars are lagging behind on their North Dakota grain shipments, according to newly released numbers. And, thousands more are trailing behind nationwide.

Two rail transportation companies have provided their first weekly updates on backlogged grain shipments after they were mandated by the federal government to do so in June.

BNSF Railway reported that 4,942 rail cars are running late in North Dakota by an average of 32 days. In its report, Canadian Pacific Railway estimated between 10,000 and 12,000 rail cars have been slowed in the U.S. and Canada, but did not say how late.

Jill Mulligan, associate general counsel for BNSF, wrote that her company is investing in hundreds of new locomotives, rail cars and employees to counteract slowness.

Canadian Pacific Vice President of Operations Charles Webster wrote that his company is developing a new grain-by-rail system for the fall harvest. Managers are also actively finding ways to de-congest traffic around St. Paul, Minn., and Chicago, he wrote.

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who pushed for the updates, said in a news release that he expects fewer cars to be delayed as rail infrastructure is improved throughout the summer.

“These updates are a welcome development which rightly focus attention on severe delays in grain shipments,” Cramer said. “They show there is a lot of work to be done before agriculture producers will again have confidence in the reliability of rail service.”

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board mandated on June 23 that BNSF and Canadian Pacific publicly file weekly status updates.

Grain shipments have staggered as the energy industry increasingly relies on trains for shipments around the U.S. and Canada.