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  • Unconventional Ag

U.S. Rail Industry, Government Struggle for Balance

The U.S. rail industry and government officials are struggling to maintain a balance of hard-earned rail efficiency and safety. In the 2013/14 harvest season, severely cold weather, bumper crop volumes, and growing oil shipments from North Dakota’s Bakken fields and coal shipments to generate electricity, all combined to create serious rail service delays and problems for the grain industry.

However, the railroad’s rather rapid response, and investment into tracks and manpower notably helped the transportation system for the 2014/15 season, as was evidenced in a new study conducted by the University of Minnesota for the Soy Transportation Coalition that found declining past-due orders and shorter delays for grain shippers.

Although shipments are moving more smoothly, not just speed, but safety must be considered since the rails also transport explosive crude oil. Government regulations have been enacted restricting Bakken oil trains to 40 mph in heavily populated areas, and oil trains with 70 or more cars will be required to be fitted with electronic braking systems, or be faced with being restricted to 30 mph. Some claim that it is unlikely that railroads will install the braking systems, slowing transportation along the entire rail network, spurring suggestions that oil trains should be rerouted around urban areas.

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