Posted 9/08/15 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The grain is moving on the rails a lot quicker this year.
After a couple years of competing for limited rail capacity, managers at the Ray grain elevators are reporting a much easier time getting railcars.
“Cars are coming in anywhere from on time to three or four days late,” said Daryn Edwards, manager of the Ray Farmer’s Union Elevator.
Last year cars were up to 30 days late. And at one point during the harvest, he said, the elevator was full for about five days.
Now as this year’s harvest is coming in, things are going a lot smoother.
“It worked out pretty well for a lot of farmers,” Edwards said.
The Viterra elevator is also having an easier time.
“So far it’s been pretty fluid,” said Riley Skardal, manager of the Viterra elevator.
He said most cars are coming in on time or pretty close to on time, whereas last year the wait could be three to four weeks. And they were full or mostly full for a few months.
“It was pretty painful,” Skardal said.
He said this year he’s even seen a few car orders come in ahead of time.
Last week, BSNF released its weekly grain backlog status updates. The company reported an average number of late days at 2.4 days. Since June the highest average was 5.9 days, and 1.6 days was the lowest.
The number of outstanding car orders that remain unfilled was at 192, which was the highest reported since the beginning of June when the company was down to 17.
The numbers show a very different picture than what was happening last February. In the first week of the month, the company reported average number of days late over 20 and 1,813 outstanding cars.
The availability of grain cars is most likely connected to changes in the pace of the oil industry and the increased capacity of pipelines. The reduced rates of drilling and completion means oil companies are hauling in less sand for fracking operations.
While oil production rates remain fairly steady, new pipeline capacity has given companies alternatives to rail. In August, Continental Resources reported 70 percent of its product moved out of the state via pipeline.
According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, transportation of crude oil by rail reached a peak last December with over 800,000 barrels of crude per day moving by rail. As of the middle of June, that number had fallen to about 600,000 barrels per day.