Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad has cut the number of late grain cars on its tracks and is doing all it can to catch up on a backlog of shipments, the company's chief executive said Thursday.
Train delays were chronic all winter and spring across the Midwest , creating costly backups for farmers and grain elevators. Some blamed the delays on the big jump in oil train traffic from North Dakota's Bakken fields, though BNSF said oil cars weren't the primary reason for the system-wide problems.
Train traffic is up across the country and North Dakota is the epicenter of growth, BNSF's Matt Rose told farmers and elected officials in Fargo. Train traffic in the state is up 144 percent the past five years.
"We've never seen growth in a state like we're seeing today," he said. "We're going to continue to make those capacity expansions to be able to handle the ag, the coal business, the oil business and all the various business lines."
BNSF is adding hundreds of locomotives to its fleet, hiring thousands of workers and laying new track to bring rail supply and demand back into balance, Rose said.
He also tried to dispel the feeling among many farmers that oil shipments get priority over grain.
"We're not proud of this, but both fleets are exactly down the same amount," Rose said. "It's just the reality and we do not believe that unintentionally or intentionally we have discriminated against either of these."
Some farm commodity groups say they are seeing improvements in shipping. Others say they've lost sales because of shipping delays.