Fertilizer shippers raise concerns over rail service problems

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WASHINGTON — Fertilizer producers have added their voice to a growing number of shippers concerned about railroad service problems in the U.S. and Canada.

“Rail service challenges have been ongoing and increasingly pervasive,” Chris Jahn, president of The Fertilizer Institute, the industry trade association, wrote to the Surface Transportation Board in a letter posted to the agency’s website today.

Service has been a problem for a year, Jahn wrote, led by CSX Transportation’s problems last year amid the rapid operational changes under then-CEO E. Hunter Harrison. CSX’s service has improved recently, he noted.

“Service problems are no longer the exclusive purview of CSX,” Jahn wrote. Fertilizer shippers have experienced “serious service disruptions” on Canadian National and Canadian Pacific in Canada and the U.S., as well as on Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific.

“Unfortunately, these service challenges are becoming increasingly pervasive,” Jahn wrote.

Earlier this month, trade groups for grain shippers and automakers complained to the STB about slow and erratic rail service across North America. Their letters prompted the board to ask the CEOs of the seven Class I railroads to address service issues and whether they have adequate resources to handle current and anticipated levels of traffic.

The railroads’ service problems are preventing them from taking full advantage of tight truck capacity. Carload freight volumes are down for the year to date despite a strengthening economy.

“This isn’t a crisis — but could lead to a gigantic missed market share opportunity,” says independent analyst Anthony B. Hatch of ABH Consulting.

The STB noted that service appears to be deteriorating at most of the Class I railroad systems, based on declines in average train speed and climbing average terminal dwell times. Other key metrics, such as the number of freight cars online and the number of cars that have not moved in 48 hours, are trending in the wrong direction, the STB wrote.

The performance metrics at three railroads — BNSF Railway, CSX, and Kansas City Southern — have held steady or improved as Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern, and Union Pacific have slowed to varying degrees.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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