BNSF submits plan to get more fertilizer shipments moving

17 April 2014 23:12 Source:ICIS News

HOUSTON (ICIS)--BNSF Railway on Thursday told the federal Surface Transportation Board that it intends to add 52 more trains and expand operations over the next six weeks, making the announcement a day before the deadline to submit plans on how the company intends to ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments to US farmers.

An issue that has worsened as the planting season unfolds, the transportation of fertilizers has faced a tremendous backlog to start the spring. But it is especially problematic for railroad companies who have dug their way out of a bitter winter across North America and have been hindered by an increase in shipments, namely crude oil, that have jammed their lines.

In portions of the US, primarily in the upper Midwest and North Dakota, retailers have begun to voice concern over either limited supply or greatly delayed shipments of the crop nutrients that farmers depend on to start sowing vast amounts of corn and other crops.

In an effort to relieve the mounting problem, the Surface Transportation Board stepped in this week and ordered both Canadian Pacific Railway and BNSF to submit plans by 18 April that will show that they can ensure delivery of fertilizer shipments to the US market.

The board's decision came after agriculture producers had testified this month that delays in fertilizer delivery could disrupt planting. Both shippers promised to add more trains to get fertilizer volumes moved more rapidly. The board also ordered the railroads to provide weekly status reports on fertilizer delivery for the next six weeks beginning 25 April.

On Thursday, Fort Worth, Texas-based BNSF said that it was adding 52 more trains in the Dakota region and in Minnesota and Montana thru the end of May, which it feels will boost not only the amount of fertilizer deliveries but reduce transport time. The company is also adding 110 jumbo-sized hopper cars to its fleet, which will increase the volume that can be carried per train.

The railroad company said that it had already begun to expand service for shipping crop nutrients and expected more progress to be evident in its freight operations in the coming weeks.

“In this peak demand period for fertilizer, we’re committing the resources to cover what customers have ordered," BNSF said. "We’re doing this through operating plans and other measures like managing crews and equipment. This plan is specific to fertilizer, but we are continuing to execute all of our short and long-term actions to improve service for all of our customers."

By Mark Milam