Moving Grain: STB Requires Additional Service Reporting From Railroads

    Photo by Ken Hammond, USDA

    STB Requires Additional Service Reporting From Railroads

    On May 6, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) announced it will require the four largest U.S. rail carriers (BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, and Union Pacific Railroad) to file service recovery plans. The plans will explain the specific actions each carrier will take to improve service.

    Every 2 weeks, the carriers must also file service progress reports and confer with STB staff. Additionally, weekly, all seven Class I carriers will have to submit a number of new service metrics. These include (but are not limited to) data on terminal dwell times at 10 additional locations; shares of scheduled services that were fulfilled; and shares of cars dropped off within 24 hours of the estimated time of arrival.

    STB released the new requirements after its 2-day hearing on rail service issues in which USDA, the Department of Transportation, FMC, and many shippers expressed strong concerns over ongoing rail service issues. The STB Chair said the new requirements would “enable needed monitoring of the improved efforts the railroads have been promising for months, and [help] determine if additional regulatory steps are necessary to promote reliable service.”

    FMC Enhances Its Monitoring of Alliance Carrier Operations

    The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has begun requiring the three global ocean carrier alliances (2M, OCEAN, and THE) and each of their member companies to provide enhanced pricing and capacity information. The newly mandated information will allow FMC to use uniform data in assessing ocean carrier behavior and marketplace competitiveness. This new transparency will give FMC’s Bureau of Trade Analysis (BTA) insight into carrier pricing, broken down by individual trade lanes and by type of container and service.

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    FMC will also gain timely information about capacity management decisions of ocean carriers and alliances. The new requirements are the result of a year-long examination by BTA to determine the data needed to properly analyze carrier behavior and marketplace trends. BTA will continuously monitor compliance to assess whether agreements have an anticompetitive impact on the marketplace.

    Panama Canal Announces Scheduled Lock Outages

    According to Advisory to Shipping No. A-17-2022 issued on May 6, the west lane of the Panama Canal’s Gatum Panamax Locks will be out of service for 12 hours on May 19 for maintenance work. On May 20, the Locks’ east lane will be out of service for 12 hours for maintenance work.

    During these outages, the locks’ daily transit capacity is estimated at 24-26 vessels—down from the normal capacity of 34-36 vessels. 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 28, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans for marketing year 2021/22 totaled 31.4 million metric tons (mmt), down 3 percent from the same time last year and down 4 percent from the previous week.

    Net corn export sales were 0.783 mmt, down 10 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were 0.735 mmt, up 53 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.119 mmt, up significantly from the previous week.

    Rail

    U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,380 grain carloads during the week ending April 30. This was a 7-percent decrease from the previous week, 24 percent fewer than last year, and 15 percent fewer than the 3-year average.

    Average May shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $3,007 above tariff for the week ending May 5. This was $1,482 more than last week and $3,102 more than this week last year.

    Barge

    For the week ending May 7, barged grain movements totaled 894,250 tons. This was 13 percent higher than the previous week and 11 percent less than the same period last year.

    For the week ending May 7, 549 grain barges moved down river—56 more barges than the previous week. There were 594 grain barges unloaded in the New Orleans region, 13 percent fewer than last week.

    Ocean

    For the week ending May 5, 27 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—10 percent fewer than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting May 6), 47 vessels were expected to be loaded—8 percent fewer than the same period last year.

    As of May 5, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $79.50. This was 1 percent more than the previous week. The rate from the PNW to Japan was $44.25 per mt, 1 percent more than the previous week.

    Fuel

    For the week ending May 9, the U.S. average diesel fuel price increased 11.4 cents from the previous week to $5.623 per gallon, 243.7 cents above the same week last year.

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