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Grain Piles Up As Railroads Fall Behind Schedule Farmers Worry Crops Will Spoil While They Wait For Transportation

Philip Brasher Associated Press

Railroads have fallen up to a month behind schedule supplying trains to ship the grain piling up on the ground in the Midwest, lawmakers were told Thursday.

As of Monday, Union Pacific was 30 days behind in delivering hopper cars, and there are two- to three-week delays at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe, railroad officials told a House Agriculture subcommittee.

“We have a train wreck in this country, a wreck that is directly affecting many sectors of our economy, none worse than agriculture,” said Rep. Bill Barrett, R-Neb. The approaching cotton harvest in the Southwest will add to the problems, he said.

Union Pacific, which merged last year with Southern Pacific, is plagued by gridlock throughout its 36,000-mile network.

Burlington Northern blames its problems on a big crop of winter wheat, soybeans and corn. To cope with its delays, the railroad is requiring grain elevators to load trains seven days a week; Sunday had been a day off.

The Agriculture Department says those two railroads and Kansas City Southern are delivering only 16,000 carloads of grain a week - 21 percent less than they shipped during a severe shortage of rail cars in 1995.

In some areas, grain may start to deteriorate, said Michael Dunn, an assistant agriculture secretary.

The Surface Transportation Board last week imposed some 30-day emergency measures designed to get Union Pacific’s trains moving faster. The actions included granting trackage rights in Texas to a competing railroad and ordering Union Pacific to report weekly on its grain shipments.

Union Pacific said it loaded 7,601 grain cars last week, down from 9,414 the week before.

Drew Collier, a Union Pacific vice president, said the railroad expected to make “considerable progress” over the next two months in working off its backlog.

Meanwhile, grain elevator operators say they’re losing money and farmers are worried their crops may ruin.

Corn can’t be moved after a snowstorm or hard freeze, said Mike Randall, a farmer from Dell Rapids, S.D.

His local grain elevator is five trains behind schedule this fall. One was canceled and four others are late, and those five trains are needed to move a million bushels of soybeans.

A sixth train was loaded but is still sitting at the elevator waiting for the Burlington Northern to move it, he said.

In LaSalle, Minn., none of 600 cars that had been promised to the local elevator showed up over a 90-day stretch. “No explanation. Simply no cars,” said John Graff, who manages the elevator.

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