Oversight and coordination key to improved South Dakota rail service

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Farm Forum

As South Dakota farmers plan for another harvest season, many producers and other rail shippers remain concerned about the availability of rail cars and the price of cars upon receipt. I understand the impact these delays have on our state’s economy, especially our agriculture industry, and continue to work directly with the railroads as well as the Surface Transportation Board (STB), which is responsible for overseeing freight service and shipping rates.

At the beginning of June, the new Rapid City, Pierre, and Eastern Railroad (RCP&E) began operating under the new ownership of Genesee and Wyoming. This was an important milestone following Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway’s decision in December of 2012 to solicit buyers for the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern (DM&E) line. While there were initial concerns about how the change in ownership could impact South Dakota shippers, I worked directly with the senior leadership of CP and the STB to ensure that any change wouldn’t harm competition or service. Since Genesee and Wyoming took control of the DM&E line just over a month ago, I have continued to hear positive feedback from shippers about its customer outreach and efforts to bring on additional rail cars and locomotives to reduce the time it takes shippers to get their products to market.

I am also working with the STB to ensure both CP and Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad continue their efforts to reduce and eliminate the backlog of grain from South Dakota that occurred during the long winter to ensure we don’t face a crisis this summer or fall due to inadequate grain elevator storage capacity.

While working with the STB earlier this year, I was pleased that it required fertilizer delivery reports from both CP and BNSF, which ensured producers didn’t miss their short planting windows. Now the STB is requiring both railroads to create a plan to address the backlog of grain orders from last year’s harvest and provide weekly updates on their delivery frequencies and overdue car orders. In early July, I met with both U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and STB Chairman Dan Elliot. Both meetings were helpful in reiterating how South Dakota producers are being impacted by the shortage of rail cars and delivery delays.

While BNSF has been able to improve deliveries in recent months, I remain concerned that CP is not meeting the commitments it made RCP&E. On June 25th, I sent a letter to the president of CP and the STB underscoring the continued frustration I hear from South Dakota shippers regarding CP’s inability to provide hundreds of empty grain cars promised to RCP&E.

These critical rail service issues have a direct impact on the economic health of South Dakota and our number one industry, agriculture. Until this issue is resolved, I plan to redouble my efforts as a member of both the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and Agriculture Committee to focus federal oversight efforts on ensuring our state’s rail service problems are addressed.