Editorial: Rail delays demand solutionsPublished 9:41am Friday, August 8, 2014
From inconsistent passenger rail service to farmers and power companies frustrated by delayed commodity shipments, it’s no secret Minnesota is feeling the impacts of a national rail system unable to supply timely service in the face of overwhelming demand.
About the only place worse might be North Dakota — from where the massive oil and record crop outputs driving this “capacity crisis” emanate.
Troublingly, a short-term fix in the form of expanded rail capacity is likely a few years or more away. Couple that with shipping demands projected to increase during that time, and it’s clear long-term solutions need to look beyond just trains and tracks. Everything from adding pipelines to reducing dependency on coal should be on the table.
Sure, those solutions might make for some strange political bedfellows, but the reality is America needs to find more ways than rail cars to move commodities, freight and even people to the places they are needed.
The latest example? Xcel Energy, along with other utilities that rely on coal as a power source, last month let the federal government know their coal stockpiles are at the lowest levels in years simply because BNSF Railway lines in the north and Upper Midwest are so overloaded with demand.
Similar points have been made by a variety of groups directly impacted by rail service. In early July, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a report estimating rail delays have cost Minnesota corn growers $72 million, soybean growers $18.8 million and wheat growers $8.5 million.
Farmers across the Upper Midwest echoed those concerns, and with the 2014 harvest heading toward its fall peak, it seems losses likely will mount. Meanwhile, oil production in the Bakken region also shows no signs of slowing.
Insufficient rail service has been high on the radar of the federal U.S. Surface Transportation Board since early spring. It’s organized hearings and even told BNSF to issue weekly updates about its backlogs.
Sadly, those reports and growing anecdotal evidence indicate rail simply won’t be enough in the long term. Indeed, BNSF is expected to spend about $5 billion on its trains, tracks and workforce between 2013 and this year, yet reports of delays continue.
That’s why federal and state agencies, along with the private sector, must find more ways to transport more of these much-needed commodities and freight across the country.
— St. Cloud Times, Aug. 6