On the rails, products are more important than people

Farmers can breathe easier. The fertilizer shortage is over.

The Associated Press reports that BNSF has now cleared all the backlog of delayed fertilizer shipments as commodities vie for railroad access.

The Surface Transportation Board last month ordered BNSF and Canadian Pacific Railway to submit the plans to ensure fertilizer was available for spring planting. Increased crude oil and freight shipments have largely been blamed for causing the rail delays. The railroads have blamed bad weather and rail traffic congestion.

Houston, Texas-based BNSF, which moves the bulk of the freight in the Upper Great Plains, had committed 52 trains to catch up on fertilizer shipments. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said Thursday that the railroad has loaded 53 trains and 50 have been delivered.

“The remainder will be delivered soon,” she said.

It took a prod from Congress to get things moving.

Of course, if fertilizer got priority, something else got pushed further aside.

Guess who?

That’s the eastbound Empire Builder Amtrak train pulling into Saint Paul’s Union Depot last evening a little after 5 p.m., nine hours — nine hours — behind schedule.

“It’s ridiculous,” one man trying to make his way back to Arizona told me while we stood on the exact spot President Obama did in February while extolling the possibilities of passenger rail. “They kept coming up with excuses. They told me it was because they needed to change locomotives. That was a lie.”

Today’s train was due in Saint Paul at 7:52 a.m. By then, it hadn’t even reached Fargo yet and is already almost 7 hours overdue.

  • MrE85

    It’s pretty clear that your headline is accurate. More the pity.

    • I don’t know that it’s anything but a proper priority. I don’t think people understand how many goods are shipped by rail. Those products ARE important.

      • MrE85

        No argument here.
        I would be happier if we had invested a little more money and attention on moving both people and freight via rail. Much like everything else in this country, we have allowed our rail infrastructure to decline as well.
        Not a smart policy.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    It would seem to me that things could be controlled better if a little logic and common sense is used. That Empire Builder train is usually around 15 cars. Most long haul freight trains have at least 4 times as many cars and more likely 6-7 times the number of cars. If the routing can be better controlled then passenger trains can be allowed to pass the late and/or slow freights then we could have a functioning passenger rail service. The problem is there is no benefit to the host rail services to do this. For reference the station to station speed on the schedule for the Empire Builder is about 50 MPH. The allowed maximum speed on most tracks in this area is 79 MPH. Given a chance the train can stay on schedule. Right now it doesn’t have a chance.