Thune: Working to address South Dakota’s rail service issues
Each year, South Dakota’s agriculture industry faces significant uncertainty as a result of our state’s unpredictable weather conditions. From droughts to floods to snowstorms, our ag producers continue to meet weather-related challenges with resilience and perseverance. Unfortunately, this year South Dakota producers are also facing significant problems getting reliable rail service due in part to the impacts that the long and bitterly cold winter has had on the railroads that move a number of important commodities and products through our state and region.
Over the past two months, I have heard from an increasing number of South Dakota shippers, including farmers, ethanol producers, and grain elevators, regarding the difficulty they are experiencing with significantly reduced rail service. While the extended winter throughout the region has made keeping up with the demand from shippers that rely on freight railroads difficult, it is imperative that both Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroads take concrete and definitive action to address the backlog of rail cars to ensure that shippers can start moving their products to market as we move into planting season.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over freight railroads and the Surface Transportation Board (STB), I have been working with senior officials from both companies and the STB to address the growing number of rail service issues. On April 1, 2014, I sent letters to senior officials at BNSF and CP railroads to reaffirm my concerns and share the growing frustration from South Dakota shippers whose livelihoods depend on the ability to get bulk goods to market by a particular date.
I will continue working with the STB and other stakeholders to make both CP and BNSF aware of the issues SD shippers are facing as we work to improve the current situation. The STB will be holding a public hearing on April 10, 2014, in Washington, D.C., that will be focused on BNSF and CP railroads’ efforts to improve service and producing an estimated timeline for a return to normal service. Senior officials from BNSF and CP will appear before the STB and impacted shippers are also invited to appear to review proposed solutions to the existing service problems and discuss additional options to improve rail service.