Moving Grain: STB Sets Schedule for Hearing on Rail Service Issues

    Grain elevator and train at Canton, Kansas Photo: K-State Research and Extension - Creative Commons

    STB Sets Schedule for Next Week’s Hearing on Rail Service Issues

    On April 20, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) posted a schedule of appearances for its April 26-27 hearing on “Urgent Issues in Freight Rail Service.” A number of metrics from STB continue to show notable signs of deteriorated rail service.

    Across the seven Class I railroads, compared to the same week last year, grain train speeds are down 6 percent; grain origin dwell times are up 22 percent; the number of grain cars not moved in over 48 hours is up 32 percent; and the number of unfilled shipper orders for empty cars is up 101 percent.

    With these delays, grain shippers have increasingly turned to the secondary railcar auction markets to get their cars on time. In the week ending April 14, bids for railcar delivery in April reached $3,750—over $3,000 above average0.

    USDA’s Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, agricultural industry representatives, and Six Class I railroads will provide testimony on these issues in the hearing next week. The hearing is open to the public and will be livestreamed on STB’s YouTube page.

    Arkansas Program Now Accepting Applications for Waterway Development Grants

    The Arkansas Port, Intermodal and Waterway Development Grant Program is now accepting applications for the 2022 grant season. With $1.95 million in available funding, the grants are open to Arkansas public port or intermodal authorities or facilities on the State’s five navigable rivers: the Arkansas, Mississippi, Ouachita, Red, and White Rivers.

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    Administered by the Arkansas Waterways Commission (AWC), the program provides financial assistance to public ports and intermodal authorities for capital improvement and port development projects. These projects have included landside infrastructure, real-estate purchase for port expansion, and much-needed dredging projects for ports and waterways.

    The program’s match requirement is 10 percent for development projects and 50 percent for dredging projects. Applications are available on AWC’s website and due by 11:59 pm, May 15. In 2021, more than 1 million tons of wheat were moved by barge down the Arkansas River (connecting to the Mississippi) to the U.S. Gulf for export.

    Panama Canal Posts Out-of-Service Notice for April 26 and 28

    On April 26, the east lane of the Panama Canal’s Gatum Panamax Locks will be out of service for 6 hours for scheduled maintenance work. During the outage, the locks’ daily transit capacity is estimated at 29-31 vessels—down from the normal capacity of 34-36 vessels. Also, on April 28, the west lane of the Locks will be out of service for 12 hours for scheduled maintenance work.

    Daily transit capacity during this time is estimated at 25-27 vessels (down from 34-36 vessels, normally). No major delays are anticipated. The locks’ exact transit capacity depends on vessel mix, transit restrictions, and other factors. The Panama Canal is a vital outlet for U.S. grain destined to Asia.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending April 7, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 35.0 million metric tons (mmt), down 9 percent from the same time last year and down 2 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 1.333 mmt, up 70 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.549 mmt, down 31 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.096 mmt, down 38 percent from the previous week.

    Rail

    U.S. Class I railroads originated 24,243 grain carloads during the week ending April 9. This was a 9-percent increase from the previous week, unchanged from last year, and 6 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average April shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $2,900 above tariff for the week ending April 14. This was $675 more than last week. There were no shuttle bids/offers this week last year.

    Barge

    For the week ending April 16, barged grain movements totaled 870,418 tons. This was 14 percent more than the previous week and 9 percent more than the same period last year.

    For the week ending April 16, 551 grain barges moved down river—42 more barges than the previous week. There were 747 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 11 percent fewer than last week.

    Ocean

    For the week ending April 14, 32 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—3 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting April 15), 58 vessels were expected to be loaded—18 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of April 14, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $78.50. This was 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $44.25 per mt, 1 percent more than the previous week.

    Fuel

    For the week ending April 18, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 2.8 cents from the previous week to $5.101 per gallon, 197.7 cents above the same week last year.

    Full report.




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