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Increased Coal, Oil Shipments Tax Rail Network

Increasing volumes of coal and oil being shipped to the Pacific Northwest are putting pressure on rail capacity in the region, according a new report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Although it remains a very small fraction of overall coal traffic out of the Powder River Basin, shipments to Pacific ports have doubled in the last two years. The Resource Council projects they could increase ten-fold in the next decade. On top of that, shipment of crude oil by rail has increased dramatically, and is expected to continue doing so. In a conference call to discuss the report, author Terry Whiteside said that could lead to long-term problems.

“The BNSF shippers of grain and coal are suffering because BNSF cannot supply the motor power necessary to move both coal, grain and oil demands being place on the BNSF system," Whiteside said. "This service meltdown is not a short-term phenomenon.”

BNSF spokesperson Matt Jones says the railroad disagrees with the numbers in the report, particularly when it comes to coal trains. He says there’s too much uncertainty surrounding what is and isn’t going to be built to project specific numbers, and that the delays in recent months are due to a number of converging factors. He adds that BNSF is investing a record 5-billion dollars in capital improvements in 2014 to deal with congestion, among other things.

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