Anticipation High For STB Hearing In Fargo

FARGO, N.D. — Anticipation is rising for the Surface Transportation Board field hearing, scheduled to run all day in Fargo on Sept. 4. It is unclear whether participants had a very good night of sleep, as tornado warning sirens went off in Fargo at 4:30 a.m.

The STB witness list is long and includes 240 minutes scheduled, plus politicians who are able to hold forth at various times. If speakers run past their 15-minute request times, and if questions from the board are added in, and time for changing witness panels, could allow the schedule to run seven or eight hours, according to sources familiar with the process. In Washington, D.C., some one-day hearings have gone into a second day.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will kick off the testimony. In advance remarks, Hoeven said he would press the Canadian Pacific Railway to add resources and to change its method of reserving cars and tracking orders. “Our businesses are growing, so Canadian Pacific needs to be clear about how many more railcars, locomotives and personnel they plan to devote to our market,” Hoeven said.

On Sept. 3, BNSF Railway filed preliminary testimony in advance of the hearing. Stevan Bobb, executive vice president, said the railroad has moved all-time record volume of grain out of North Dakota in 2014 so far. The railroad says in four of the past five months, ag volume shipped in the four-state region on BNSF has surpassed the previous peak levels.

In North Dakota, traffic in and out of the state has increased 144 percent on BNSF since 2009, the company says. North Dakota represents 20 percent of all new volume in the company’s U.S. rail network.

BNSF has cut its past-due shipments to fewer than 1,000 cars in North Dakota from a high of 8,164 in March. Shuttles trains to the Pacific Northwest are at the 2.5 round trips per month for the past four weeks. BNSF will say it si ready for the harvest and will have resources to move record bushels.