Rain, snow continue to disrupt grain shipments

by Ron Sterk
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Major winter weather events have disrupted rail movement of grain to Pacific Northwest ports for export.

KANSAS CITY – Major winter weather events have disrupted rail movement of grain to Pacific Northwest ports for export.

On Feb 14 the BNSF Railway Co. in a service advisory said it was experiencing service challenges and delays due to “significant track outage affecting traffic to/from the Pacific Northwest and California.” Heavy rain and rapid snow melt from the Sierra Nevada the prior week had caused multiple washouts north and east of Sacramento, Calif. Service had been restored between Klamath Falls, Ore., and Keddie, Calif., but the railway’s primary north-south route remained closed.

BNSF service also was affected by the situation of the Oroville Dam in Oroville, Calif.

“The Oroville Dam experienced multiple spillway failures earlier this week forcing the mandatory evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents, including several BNSF employees,” the company’s Feb. 14 service advisory said.

Pacific Northwest-California train flows were re-routed until further notice.

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“The traffic re-routing could lead to longer overall transit times by several days compared to normal condition,” BNSF said.

Trade sources noted rail freight costs soared as a result of the problems. The average rate in the secondary market for spot BNSF shuttle rail cars was around $2,000 above tariff per car in early February, up from $1,267 above tariff a month earlier and compared with $108 below tariff a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The delays were acute for Asian buyers, who source much of their U.S. grain from the Pacific Northwest.

As early as Feb. 6 BNSF noted a service outage on its Hi Line Subdivision between Shelby and Whitefish, Mont., due to an avalanche near Marias Pass that impacted both main tracks. Train operations through the area were suspended.

“As a key route to and from facilities in the Pacific Northwest, customers may experience significant delays,” BNSF said.

Although the area received nearly five feet of snow, BNSF had hoped to reopen one of the main lines in a couple of days, but the outage lasted longer than expected as multiple avalanches occurred on the eastern side of Glacier National Park. Operations in Montana were restarted on the Hi Line Subdivision on the afternoon of Feb. 10.

Other problems were caused by floods and mudslides from heavy rains and snowmelt in some areas of Washington and Oregon.
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