Moving Grain: Major Barge Line Files for Bankruptcy

Mississippi River barges lines up at Port of Rosedale, Mississippi ©Debra L Ferguson

Major Barge Line ACBL Files for Bankruptcy

American Commercial Lines, often known as American Commercial Barge Lines (ACBL), filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, February 7. Several outlets, including Workboat and The Wall Street Journal, reported that creditors for the carrier had previously arranged a restructuring plan that included $1 billion of debt reduction.

According to the 2019 Barge Fleet Profile report from IEG Vantage, ACBL owns 2,497, or over 19 percent of the 12,893 U.S. jumbo covered barges (the type used for grain transportation) counted by the survey. The company intends to make normal payments to vendors for transactions made after this restructuring.

The bankruptcy filing reflects recent adversity for the industry, which has faced navigation challenges and trade-related reductions in shipper demand.

Union Pacific Restores Service on Domestic Intermodal Lanes

On February 1, Union Pacific Railroad (UP) resumed service on lines that were previously eliminated after the railroad implemented precision scheduled railroading (PSR) in 2018. UP restarted its interline service on almost 60 lines in conjunction with CSX Transportation (CSX) and Norfolk Southern Railway (NS).

For example, in conjunction with CSX, UP resumed service in Ohio (for Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus), as well as for three lines to Philadelphia, PA, and two lines to Baltimore, MD. Interline service with NS resumed for more than a dozen lines to Pennsylvania and New Jersey and for five routes into Ayer, MA.

AgTC Holds Workshops in Portland and Boise, Discusses Port Issues

The Agricultural Transportation Coalition (AgTC) held workshops in Portland and Boise on January 29 and January 31. Discussion focused on detention and demurrage charges, the international trade climate, and container chassis availability.

Grain News on AgFax

Discussion of fines to shippers centered specifically on terminals of the Northwest Seaport Alliance (formerly, the separate ports of Seattle and Tacoma), where frequent fines have negatively affected shipping demand. Port operators treat terminals in both cities as part of a single port.

Still, customs authorities can impose penalties when a shipment slated to depart a Tacoma terminal instead departs Seattle, or vice versa. Per USDA/AMS research, the combined Seattle and Tacoma volume of agricultural imports and exports was 73.2 million metric tons (mmt), 7 percent of the U.S. total in 2017.

Port authority representatives suggested using a single port code for all terminals in these locations to avoid needless fines.

USDA Releases Fourth-Quarter 2019 GTOR

On February 13, 2020, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service released the fourth-quarter Grain Truck and Ocean Rate Advisory (GTOR). The report contains regional data on truck rates, use, and availability for shipping grain, as well as diesel fuel prices and ocean rates for bulk grain shipments to select destinations.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending January 30, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 22.3 mmt. This represents a 28 percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year.

Net corn export sales reached 1.25 mmt, up 1 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were .704 mmt, up 76 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .339 mmt, down 48 percent from the previous week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 19,158 grain carloads during the week ending February 1. This was a 12-percent decrease from the previous week, 11 percent less than last year, and 20 percent lower than the 3-year average.

Average February shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $279 below tariff for the week ending February 6. This was $142 less than last week and $746 lower than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending February 8, barge grain movements totaled 450,358 tons. This was a 17.6-percent decrease from the previous week and 10 percent more than the same period last year.

For the week ending February 8, 298 grain barges moved down river—37 barges fewer than the previous week. There were 611 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 5 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending February 6, 30 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—15.4 percent more than same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting February 7), 40 vessels were expected to be loaded—42.0 percent fewer than the same period last year.

As of February 6, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $42.00. This was 7 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $22.00 per mt, 9 percent less than the previous week


For the week ending February 10, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 4.6 cents from the previous week to $2.910 per gallon, 5.6 cents below the same week last year.

Full report.

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