Aug 11 2014
Senator Continues to Press Industry & Federal Officials to Improve Service as Harvest Begins
MINOT, N.D. – U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today pressured Canadian Pacific Railway CEO E. Hunter Harrison to make a more concerted effort in addressing agriculture shipment delays in North Dakota that are causing preventable challenges for farmers and shippers across the state.
Since the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) began monitoring the progress of improvements made by BNSF and Canadian Pacific, Canadian Pacific went from reporting 23,818 open requests for grain cars in June, to 22,457 open requests in August – a mere five percent improvement. In addition, the wait time actually increased, with the average time of an open request going from 63 days to now more than 80 days. Heitkamp discussed Canadian Pacific’s lack of significant improvement at today’s roundtable discussion and stressed the effects it is already having on North Dakota farmers and shippers. She also made a strong case for Canadian Pacific to commit to a plan that will address the current concerns, as well as find a long-term solution to prevent backlog in the future.
Since last February, Heitkamp has been pushing all sides to work to address the delayed agriculture shipments. Last month, Heitkamp called on Canadian Pacific to communicate with North Dakota farmers on the status of agriculture shipment delays in the state and the steps the company is taking to improve them. She also recently spoke with Canadian Pacific CEO E. Hunter Harrison two weeks ago to discuss the issue.
“For North Dakota farmers and shippers to transport their crop in the coming weeks, it’s imperative that Canadian Pacific begins to make significant improvements and commit to decreasing backlog and wait times,” said Heitkamp. “We have received far too little information from the company about the status of its delayed agriculture shipments and the efforts to address them. We need transparency and an open dialogue between North Dakota farmers and Canadian Pacific about what steps are being taken to accommodate the coming harvest and specifics about the extent of delays in North Dakota. Today’s conversation with Canadian Pacific CEO E. Hunter Harrison is a start, but there is still much work to be done.”
Heitkamp has been working with farmers, the railroads, and government agencies to make sure the railroads can accommodate crops from the upcoming harvest, which is expected to happen within weeks. Heitkamp has been putting pressure on BNSF, Canadian Pacific, the STB and others to rectify the unacceptable backlog of agriculture shipments since February. While BNSF has made significant improvements and cut down on its backlog, though it still has a way to go, Canadian Pacific has failed to make the necessary changes to reduce the backlog and wait times of open requests.
Heitkamp met with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Executive Chairman Matt Rose last week in Fargo to discuss the progress BNSF has made in reducing the backlog and talk about how to prevent delays from happening in the future. During the discussion, Heitkamp acknowledged the improvements made by BNSF, but also stressed the need to prevent delays from happening in the future.
In May, Heitkamp requested that North Dakota State University study the economic impact of the shipment delays. According to initial findings shared prior to the full release of the study, a conservative estimate of how much revenue North Dakota farmers have lost due to agriculture shipment delays over the course of January-April was $66 million. In some instances, agricultural producers lacking access to rail service have been forced to hire trucks to carry products thousands of miles to meet obligations to customers.
Heitkamp met with the Chairman of the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which is tasked with resolving service disputes, to urge him to look into concerns she has heard from North Dakota farmers that the railroads may not be able to move out last year’s crops in time for the coming crop year’s harvest due to extensive delays. She has also been in regular contact with BNSF Chief Executive Officer Carl Ice to express her concerns. As service severely diminished over the winter, Heitkamp told BNSF about the great economic impact the delays are having on North Dakota.