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Minnesota leaders seek federal help to ease rail delays

By Don Davis/ Forum News Service

Minnesota's leaders want federal help to ease railroad delays.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday sent a letter to the head of the Surface Transportation Board saying that rail delays are hurting many parts of the economy.

"As we watch winter come to the state of Minnesota, we have become increasingly alarmed by the service failures of several railroads that serve critical industries in our state," the three Democrats wrote to board Chairman Daniel Elliott.

And Tuesday, Dayton holds what is expected to be the last of a series of rail safety and rail congestion summits. It will be 10 a.m. at Kirby Ballroom, University of Minnesota Duluth. It begins an hour after he is to end an election forum with Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson.

After the rail meeting, Dayton is to meet with Minnesota Power officials.

The state's power companies are among those complaining that overloaded rails are slowing service. Rail congestion is causing power plants to run low on coal.

"We are hearing daily from captive shippers across the agricultural, mining and energy sectors who cannot move products to market or transshipment locations; cannot secure delivery of enough coal to run power plants; and are forced to find extremely uneconomic alternatives, which ultimately lead to higher costs and poorer outcomes for businesses and end-use consumers," the officials' letter said.

They claim that railroads "have not provided even minimally adequate levels of rail service."

The Surface Transportation Board oversees freight railroads and the official wrote that power companies are restricting use of coal-fired power plants to conserve coal stockpiles.

The three say that the situation appears to be getting worse.

Railroad officials recently told state legislators that service is improving and will get better in coming years as they expand their rail networks and make other infrastructure changes.

An Amtrak official at the legislative hearing blamed rail delays on hours-long waits its passengers must endure.

Passenger and freight trains share the rails. The Amtrak official said freights, especially those carrying oil, get priority, but railroad officials denied that.

Farmers already have sustained more than $100 million in losses due to rail congestion, which Dayton blames mostly on greatly increase use of rails to transport western North Dakota crude oil.

Farmers say they have a difficult time getting fertilizer and other crop inputs, and worry that crops they are harvesting will not get to market on time.

  
Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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