Reported by Joanna Marsh for Freightwaves.
A bipartisan group of members of Congress are concerned about how subpar freight rail service is affecting the fertilizer industry and the greater agricultural sector’s ability to compete in global markets.
In a Wednesday letter to the Surface Transportation Board, 51 congressional members representing states across the U.S. urged the board to address short-term challenges and utilize “practical updates and changes” to ensure that rail service improves.
“At a time when global fertilizer supplies and global crop production are highly disrupted, imposing shipping curtailments on fertilizer inputs and grain, as recently proposed by Union Pacific, will cause major supply chain disruptions, hurt American farmers and exacerbate the food crisis considerably,” said the letter, referring to Union Pacific’s (NYSE: UNP) attempt earlier this spring to reduce the number of privately owned railcars on its network as a means to alleviate congestion.
“We must ensure critical commodities reach essential industries and workers, such as America’s farmers, who are essential to feeding our nation and the world. Food is a national security issue and we must treat it as such,” the letter said.
The letter noted that the board held a two-day hearing in late April to hear from the railroads, shippers and the unions about what might be the root causes of the deterioration in rail service at the beginning of 2022 as well as what could be viable, potential solutions.
The letter also mentioned some of the testimony that came from shippers groups in March and April, including the Fertilizer Institute and the National Grain and Feed Association. Both groups told the board about the high costs that members incurred as a result of delays and congestion.
“By placing onerous restrictions on shippers without customer consultation, Class I carriers may run the risk of jeopardizing family-run farms and increasing the cost of food for consumers. …
While we respect the challenges of operating a major railroad, communication is essential when
taking steps to make the necessary improvements, including the imposition of service curtailments,” the letter said. “As we work toward solutions to meet the ongoing supply chain challenges, carriers and the STB should also be mindful of essential commodities and our country’s best public interest.
Earlier this week, the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO pressed congressional senators to redefine the common carrier obligation, a federal law that binds the railroads to provide customers with rail service.
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