Moving Grain: STB Proposes To Amend Emergency Service Rules

    Photo by Ken Hammond, USDA

    STB Proposes To Amend Its Emergency Service Rules

    The Surface Transportation Board (STB) issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on April 22 to amend its rarely used emergency service rules. Where rail service failures impose substantial costs on shippers, a region, or the general public, emergency service orders can provide immediate relief, but shippers believe the application process is too slow and burdensome.

    The proposed modifications would reduce barriers for shippers seeking emergency service orders in several ways: first, the need for a commitment from an alternative railroad to start the proceeding would be eliminated. Second, the proposal would shift—from the shipper to the railroad—the burden of informing STB about any potential effects, of an emergency service order, on safety and service.

    The proposal would also shorten the procedural schedule: the railroad would have to reply within 3 business days (instead of 5) of the filing date, and the shipper would be allowed 2 business days (instead of 3) for its rebuttal. STB also clarified that it expects to decide on a filing within 5 business days of receiving the rebuttal.

    Given the industry’s serious ongoing service issues, STB set a short comment period for the proposal. Comments on the NPRM are due May 23, and replies are due June 6.

    FMC Examines How Carriers Can Improve Service to Exporters

    Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) staff are comprehensively examining how key ocean carriers serve U.S. export shippers. Launched in response to a March 2022 directive of the FMC Chair, the review is led by the Commission’s vessel operating common carrier (VOCC) Audit Team.

    Grain News on AgFax

    Last week, the VOCC Audit Program finished its first round of meetings with 11 key shipping lines. The meetings help identify which ocean carriers have export strategies and how well those strategies work. The VOCC Audit Team also uses its exchanges with carriers to urge companies without export strategies to establish one.

    The team will continue to engage ocean carriers on export issues, but its initial findings from the interviews will be presented to FMC later this Spring.

    DOT Reports Progress Toward Relieving Supply-Chain Issues in Trucking

    According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the trucking industry now employs roughly 30,000 more drivers than at the start of the pandemic. DOT hopes to bolster these gains with recent accomplishments in its efforts to advance trucking.

    These achievements include more than 90 employers launching registered apprenticeship programs in 90 days and—between 2021 and 2022—a 112-percent increase in commercial driver’s licenses issued in January and February. DOT also recently launched a new Women of Trucking Advisory Board to recruit women and a new Veterans Trucking Task Force to bring more veterans into the industry.

    DOT notes trucking is “one key bottleneck,” which has struggled with declining employment—even before the pandemic—and a historic demand for goods since the pandemic.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending April 14, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 33.8 million metric tons (mmt), down 9 percent from the same time last year and down 3 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 0.879 mmt, down 34 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.460 mmt, down 16 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.026 mmt, down 73 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 19,602 grain carloads during the week ending April 16. This was a 19-percent decrease from the previous week, 25 percent fewer than last year, and 14 percent fewer than the 3-year average.

    Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $2,546 above tariff for the week ending April 21. This was $35 less than last week and $2,508 more than this week last year.


    For the week ending April 23, barged grain movements totaled 895,067 tons. This was 3 percent more than the previous week and 7 percent lower than the same period last year.

    For the week ending April 23, 549 grain barges moved down river—2 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 733 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 2 percent fewer than last week.


    For the week ending April 21, 38 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—19 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting April 22), 46 vessels were expected to be loaded—12 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of April 21, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $79.00. This was 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest to Japan was $44.75 per mt, 1 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending April 25, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 5.9 cents from the previous week to $5.16 per gallon, 203.6 cents above the same week last year.

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