In Stark Contrast to Past Two Years, Abundant Grain Trains Available this Harvest
Across the upper Great Plains over the past two seasons, transporting grain has been a challenge due to bumper crops and a lack of available grain trains, leaving elevators overflowing and grain piled on the ground waiting on a backlogged rail system.
This season, however, there appears to be an abundance of grain trains available to transport what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expects to be near-record soybean and corn crops. The welcome reversal is the result of unprecedented spending on track upgrades, a sharp decline in trains hauling crude oil and freight through North Dakota, and political pressure from politicians representing highly productive agricultural states.
Politicians in Washington, DC called on the Surface Transportation Board to address the backlog and put pressure on the railroads, and since 2013, BNSF Railway Co. invested billions to complete upgrades to its rail system including allocating $1 billion for upgrades in North Dakota alone.
“We put the pressure on the railroads and were willing to be a pain to them but we are also willing to give them credit that they’ve owned up to this problem and appear to have fixed it,” said U.S. Rep. (ND) Kevin Cramer, who was one of the politicians who called for action.
Lower oil prices and a slowing of drilling activity in North Dakota have also contributed to the easing or rail congestion. Although the state’s oil production has remained at approximately 1.2 million barrels per month, the amount shipped via rail has fallen below 50% because of additional pipelines and higher refining capacity.