Grain train

Grain shipped by rail increases

As may be expected, increased exports translated into increased movement of grain by rail in recent months. Rail car deliveries of grain to ports for the year through April 14 totaled 144,544, up 19% from the same period a year earlier, the U.S.D.A. said. Total year-to-date loadings were 325,253 rail cars, up 8% from the same period last year, according to data from the American Association of Railroads (A.A.R.).

Freight rates to ship rail by grain soared during the winter months, approaching $4,000 per car for a time due largely to restricted movement caused by severe weather across the northern corridor to the Pacific Northwest. But rates since have fallen sharply and were comparable with year-ago rates despite the increased demand. Secondary bids for shuttle trains for May were as low as $225 per car below tariff in the week ended April 13 on the BNSF Railway, up $94 from the prior week but unchanged from a year ago, according to the U.S.D.A. and industry sources, with shuttle rates on the Union Pacific as low as $450 below tariff for May. The average non-shuttle secondary per car bids/offers was $63 below tariff, up 63% from the prior week and also unchanged from a year ago.

Traffic on the BNSF Railway, which was some of the most affected by severe winter weather, continued to improve in the Pacific Northwest, although new landslides in Wyoming again impacted traffic recently.

“The agricultural network has clearly felt the improvements throughout the north as well as across the whole system,” John Miller, group vice-president for agricultural products at BNSF, said on April 28. “Reduced holding of trains, increased velocity, more consistent turns per month for shuttles and near zero past dues are evident across our geography.”

Total BNSF trains held for the week ended April 27 averaged 37.1, down 38% from a week earlier but up 73% from a year ago. Train velocity was 19.4 miles per hour, about even with a week earlier but down 15% from a year earlier. Terminal dwell at 25.4 hours was down 4% from a week earlier but was up 12% from a year ago. All categories showed improvement from earlier in April.

“We see strong, consistent demand into the Pacific Northwest as exporters make their last sales before the South American crops begin to undercut U.S. exports for the summer,” Mr. Miller said.

As with grain, total rail movement of freight across all railroads also was above year-ago levels. U.S. carloads and intermodal units totaled 6,711,782 during the first quarter of 2017, up 3.5% from the same period last year, with carload traffic at 3,324,102, up about 6%, and intermodal units at 3,387,680, up more than 1%, the A.A.R. said.