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Ag Secretary: 'Urgent Action' Needed for Rail Service Issues

NGFA says some elevators are unable to purchase grain from farmers due to lack of outbound train service

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) announced it will hold a public hearing on April 26-27 on recent rail service problems and recovery efforts involving several Class I carriers.

STB will direct BNSF Railway Co., CSX Transportation, Inc., Norfolk Southern Railway Co., and Union Pacific Railroad Co. to appear.

“In recent weeks, the board has heard informally from a broad range of stakeholders about inconsistent and unreliable rail service,” notes the hearing notice.

“The board has also received reports from the Secretary of Agriculture and other stakeholders about the serious impact of these service trends on rail users, particularly with respect to shippers of agricultural and energy products.”

NGFA President and CEO Mike Seyfert sent a March 24 letter to STB reporting significant rail service problems at rail origins and destinations.

Some grain elevators are unable to purchase grain from farmers due to lack of outbound train service.

Other NGFA members have run out of grain and have been forced to shut down flour and feed mills and cut off sales to customers while awaiting grain deliveries.

In some cases, NGFA members have been unable to deliver feed to livestock producers that may not have alternative feed sources.

Citing NGFA’s letter, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requested “urgent action” from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to improve rail service for agricultural commodities, particularly for livestock feed markets, in a March 30 letter.

In a statement accompanying the notice, STB Chairman Martin Oberman said over the last six years, the Class I railroads collectively have reduced their work force by 29%, which is about 45,000 employees cut from the payrolls.

“In my view, all of this has directly contributed to where we are today – rail users experiencing serious deteriorations in rail service because, on too many parts of their networks, the railroads simply do not have a sufficient number of employees,” Oberman said.

The April 26-27 public hearing will be held at STB headquarters in Washington, D.C., and will be open for public observation and available for viewing on the board’s website.

Any person wishing to speak at the hearing should file with the board a notice of intent to participate no later than April 14. Any written testimony or comments should be submitted by April 22.

Related reading
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