BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Farm commodity rail shipments are running nearly three weeks behind in North Dakota, but BNSF Railway Co. has promised to get caught up before summer, the state's U.S. senators said Wednesday.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, said they met with BNSF CEO Carl Ice on Tuesday to express concerns about delays in agricultural shipments and overall rail safety. The state's congressional delegation, including GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer, have for months pushed the railroad to improve its service in North Dakota, where shipping delays have caused big backlogs and added costs for agriculture shippers, including grain elevators and sugar cooperatives.
Increased crude oil and freight shipments largely have been blamed for causing the rail delays. But BNSF has said rail service has been hurt by bad winter weather.
Heitkamp believes there is competition between oil tankers and railcars hauling agriculture products, which is contributing to shipping delays for the latter.
"I think somebody would have to prove to me that's not correct," she said.
Whatever the cause of BNSF's shipping delays, Hoeven said, "they have got to keep up with ag and there is no question they need to increase capacity. That's the point we're making very forcefully."
"We recognize the severe impact that our reduced network velocity is having on our customers and their business," Ice said in a statement released through Hoeven's office. "BNSF is committed to restoring service levels in North Dakota as quickly as possible."
BNSF is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and is part of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc., based in Omaha, Neb. The railroad, which was purchased by Berkshire in 2010, is the biggest player in the rich oil fields of North Dakota and Montana, hauling the bulk of the crude out of the region and the inbound freight that supports oil drilling.
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