Franken calls for improved rural rail service
Published 11:14 am Thursday, May 29, 2014
Area agricultural leaders shared their concerns with U.S. Sen. Al Franken on Wednesday about the effects poor rail service is having on their industry.
Meeting at the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce in Northbridge Mall, about a handful of representatives from grain and rural energy cooperatives talked about how the delays in rail service are having a domino effect on many businesses and ultimately increasing prices for the consumer.
Several said farmers are trying to ship grain from last year in anticipation of a record crop this year, but the rail line is backed up.
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“We’ve got some real issues here,” said Franken, DFL-Minneapolis.
Franken earlier this spring pressed the Surface Transportation Board — which has jurisdiction over the U.S. railroad system — to prioritize fertilizer shipments and ensure the state’s farmers could plant their crops on time.
“Things have gotten better, yes,” said Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association. But he noted some companies are still not where they should be.
Zelenka said one train unit — or about 110 train cars — can carry up to 400,000 bushels of corn. He is not sure if having more locomotives would be an answer to the problem.
Jim Krueger, president of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, said his business is having to compete for rail capacity and said he is concerned delays are affecting his company’s long-term reliability.
He said if the company gets down to a coal pile that would only last six or seven days, he gets worried when a train carrying more coal gets delayed.
Others talked about the effects the rail service is having on the propane industry — including the cost to insure cars carrying propane — and that agricultural leaders would like to have more hearings with the Surface Transportation Board.
Franken said he would take the stories shared back to the board.
Franken recalled how when he was 4 years old, his family moved to Albert Lea to start a quilting factory. After two years, the factory ultimately failed.
He said though the railroad went through Albert Lea, it didn’t stop here — what he described as “captive shipping.”
After his stop in Albert Lea, Franken was headed to Austin to help break ground at the Hormel Institute’s cancer research facility and to tour the new IJ Holton Intermediate School. Read about his Austin visit Friday.