Agricultural customer files complaint over CN service reduction

Indiana firm tells STB it has lost business, has had to shut down at times
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — An Indiana distributor of agricultural products has filed a complaint with federal regulators regarding service cutbacks Canadian National made as the pandemic hit in March.

Kingsbury Elevator, of Kingsbury, Ind., was forced to shut down its operations at times due to lack of deliveries from CN, the company wrote in a filing to the Surface Transportation Board last week.

CN reduced Kingsbury’s switching to three times a week, down from daily, at the end of March, according to the company’s filing. CN shifted Kingsbury’s traffic to a South Bend-based local from a local based at Battle Creek, Mich.

CN officials have said the yard at Battle Creek was idled amid the pandemic-related traffic downturn and likely will not reopen. Kingsbury says its volume had not declined substantially before CN reduced switching frequency.

Kingsbury claims CN subsidiary Grand Trunk Western violated its common carrier obligations and failed to provide proper notice of the reduction in service. It also claims that CN issued inaccurate bills for demurrage and no-pull charges. And the company, which distributes canola meal, corn gluten meal, gluten feed pellets, and fertilizer, says that CN’s delays and service changes caused it to lose business.

“On numerous occasions, GTW has failed and refused to provide rail transportation to KE in a reasonably timely manner, with the result that KE’s supply of canola meal has been exhausted, and KE has been forced to shut down its business until canola meal is delivered,” Kingsbury said in its complaint. “GTW’s repeated failure to make reasonably prompt delivery of shipments to KE has been a consistent pattern of behavior, not sporadic instances of service failures.”

Kingsbury is seeking damages and for CN to honor service commitments.

GTW asked the STB for a 30-day extension to respond to the complaint. “GTW intends to utilize that time to engage in discussions with Kingsbury to seek to resolve the matters addressed in Kingsbury’s filings,” the railroad said. “GTW has conferred with counsel for Kingsbury, who has indicated that Kingsbury is willing to engage in such discussions with GTW and does not object to this extension request.”

A similar complaint was lodged against BNSF Railway last month by a Chicago company that receives asphalt liquid binder by rail. Bell Oil Terminal claimed that BNSF in April unilaterally reduced the facility’s switching service to two days per week, down from three.

In a response to the STB, BNSF denied much of Bell Oil’s claims and asked the board to dismiss the complaint, that no damages be awarded to Bell, and that BNSF be compensated for its costs. “BNSF has addressed Bell’s concerns by adjusting the delivery days,” the railroad told the STB.

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