Cash Market Moves

Concerns Over Rail Service, Charges Lead STB to Address Class 1 Railroads

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
Connect with Mary:

FROM: DTN/The Progressive Farmer/Weather Monday 16-Apr-2018 06:36 AM EDT



The US and European models are in fair to good agreement early in the outlook period, only fair agreement later in the period. A significant upper level, cut off, low is expected to move from southern Colorado into southwest Kansas early in this period. From there it tracks east-southeast through the central plains winter wheat belt and eventually through the Delta. Normally the heaviest rains in the plains would occur north and east of the track of the upper level low but due to the slow movement and the opportunity for this system to include an inflow of moisture off the Gulf of Mexico there may be more widespread rain than that. It is likely that this system will bring rain back to the Delta as well but probably not until the weekend. The system likely stays well south of the northern plains crop belt keeping this area drier. The early call is for it to also remain south of the Midwest as well but this is more uncertain.
Longer range the US model has more of a south-central US ridge with the trough in the southeast for the mean map at 8 to 10 days. The European model has the trough over the Midwest and not much ridging in the south-central US.
We also note a weak trough over the Manitoba or Ontario area of Canada and a stronger trough centered north of Hudson Bay in Canada. This suggests a somewhat warmer outlook, except the European model may be a little cooler in the Midwest due to the trough and both models suggest somewhat cooler in the Delta as well. The models are both drier over the central and south plains wheat belt after the system in the 5 day forecast period exits the area. The Euro is somewhat cooler for the region than the US model suggests.


NORTHERN PLAINS (SPRING WHEAT, LIVESTOCK): Heavy snow with blizzard conditions impacted livestock in west and south areas Friday and Friday night, along with travel and transport impacts. Cold temperatures continue to delay any early spring field work in northern areas and also maintain high stress levels on livestock.

CENTRAL/SOUTHERN PLAINS (WINTER WHEAT): Some very beneficial rainfall is possible in much of the winter wheat belt later in the week. Up until then winds and low relative humidity will maintain high stress levels on wheat.

MIDWEST (SPRING FIELD WORK): A powerful storm system moved into the region Friday and Saturday. This produced moderate to heavy rain, strong winds, thunderstorms and in west and northwest areas snow and blizzard conditions.
This is likely to further delay spring field work and early corn planting.
Blizzard conditions or snow and wind in the northwest and far west also impacted travel and transport. Another system this week may bring more snow to northwest growing areas.

DELTA: Severe storms with heavy rains, strong winds, some hail and a few tornados occurred late Friday or Friday night into Saturday. Soil moisture is likely adequate to surplus for earlier planted corn. Slow downs likely occur to planting progress due to these periodic heavy rain events. The next risk of heavy storms in the area looks to be this coming weekend.

BRAZIL (CORN): Favorable soil moisture for developing second crop corn in central Brazil at this time. A few scattered showers may develop in Mato Grosso at times.

SOUTH AFRICA (MAIZE,SUGARCANE): Episodes of scattered showers with no significant cold weather in site. This should favor late filling crops and mostly favor maturing crops and early long as the rainfall does not become too heavy.

CHINA (WINTER WHEAT, WINTER RAPESEED): Significant rain occurred at the end of last week through much of the key growing areas for winter wheat and rapeseed.
This should maintain favorable conditions for development of these crops during the early spring period.


Northern Plains (Spring Wheat, livestock)

Summary: Light to moderate precipitation with locally heavier through southern areas during the weekend period. Heavy snow, blowing snow and blizzard conditions were reported in South Dakota, especially hard hit in south-central and south areas of the state. Temperatures averaged below to well below normal Saturday, near normal west and below or well below normal east Sunday.

Forecast: Strong winds with light showers in western areas this afternoon or tonight. Light to locally moderate precipitation favoring southern area during Tuesday or Tuesday night. Light precipitation may linger in southeast areas Wednesday. Temperatures average near to below normal in Montana, below normal elsewhere in the region, during this period.
Mostly dry Thursday. Dry or with only light precipitation in southwest South Dakota Friday. Dry Saturday. Temperatures average above normal in Montana during this period, below normal in the Dakotas Thursday, near normal Friday and Saturday.

6-10 Day Outlook: Temperatures are expected to average near normal.
Precipitation near to mostly below normal.

Central/Southern Plains (Winter Wheat, livestock)

Summary: Light precipitation totals west and north areas early in the weekend period. Light to moderate showers in east Texas. Little elsewhere in the region. Very strong winds through much of the region. Strong winds combined with snow in northwest Kansas and southern Nebraska to produce blizzard conditions for a time. Temperatures averaged below to well below normal.

Forecast: Mostly dry and becoming windy today. Dry or with only a little light precipitation in northern areas Tuesday. Mostly dry Wednesday. Temperatures average below normal today, above to well above normal Tuesday, near to above normal Wednesday.
Mostly dry or with only light showers developing in west and northwest areas Thursday or Thursday night. Scattered showers and thundershowers develop in the west and spread east Friday and Saturday. Rainfall potential appears to be
0.30-1.50 inches and locally heavier. The heaviest rainfall may favor north and east areas but there is at least a significant chance for meaningful rainfall in the driest areas of the southwest belt. Temperatures average near to below normal Thursday, below normal Friday and Saturday.

6-10 Day Outlook: Temperatures are expected to average near to above normal.
Rainfall averages near to below normal west, near to above normal east locations.

Midwest corn, soybean and winter wheat


West: Rain, freezing rain and snow and blizzard conditions during the early part of the weekend period. Precipitation totals averaging 0.30-1.50 inches and locally heavier...heaviest southeast Minnesota, central and east Iowa. Snowfall
8-18 inches in north-central Nebraska, south-central and southeast South Dakota, southwest and east-central areas of Minnesota, 4-8 inches in northwest and north-central Iowa. Blizzard conditions mainly in areas of heavy snowfall.
Temperatures averaged below to well below normal Saturday and well below normal Sunday.

East: Heavy snow and likely blizzard conditions through central and northern Wisconsin and northern Michigan during the weekend period. Rain, showers and thunderstorms, 0.50-2.00 inches and locally heavier elsewhere in the region during the weekend period. Rain changed to snow in northern areas overnight.
Temperatures averaged below normal north and above normal central and south Saturday, below normal Sunday.


West: Mostly dry today and most of Tuesday. Snow redevelops through northwest and north areas Tuesday night into Wednesday. Rain or snow showers central areas, showers south, during this time. Precipitation totals 0.25-1.00 inch favoring east Nebraska, southeast South Dakota, west and north Iowa and southern Minnesota. Temperatures average below to well below normal during this period.
Mostly dry Thursday. Dry or with only a little light precipitation favoring southern areas Friday or Saturday. Temperatures average below normal during this period.

East: Dry or with only a little light precipitation favoring north and east areas today. Mostly dry Tuesday. Light to locally moderate precipitation, favoring Wisconsin and Michigan during Wednesday. Temperatures average well below normal today, below to well below normal Tuesday, below normal north and near to above normal south Wednesday.
Mostly dry Thursday and Friday. Dry or with only light precipitation through southern areas Saturday. Temperatures average below normal during this period.

6 to 10 day outlook: Temperatures are expected to vary somewhat during this period. Precipitation near to above normal south, near to below normal north.

Delta (Corn, Soybeans, Cotton)

Summary: Heavy thunderstorms were reported in the region during the weekend period, many with high winds, some with hail and tornados. Rainfall averaging
1.50 to 3.00 inches, some locally heavier. Coverage general. Temperatures averaged above normal early Saturday, below normal Saturday afternoon, well below normal Sunday.

Forecast: Mostly dry today through Wednesday. Temperatures average well below normal today and early Tuesday, warmer later Tuesday and mainly near normal Wednesday.
Mostly dry Thursday and Friday. Moderate to heavy rain and thunderstorms are expected to redevelop during the weekend period. Temperatures average near to slightly below normal during this period.

6-10 Day Outlook: Temperatures are expected to average near to below normal during this period. Rainfall near to above normal.

Canadian Prairies (Canola, Spring Wheat)

Summary: A little light precipitation favoring southwest areas during the weekend period. Little elsewhere in the region. Temperatures averaged near normal west and below normal east during the weekend period.

Forecast: A little light precipitation, favoring western and southern areas, today or during Tuesday. Dry Wednesday. Temperatures average below to near normal during this period.
Mostly dry Thursday and Friday. Dry or with only a little light precipitation Saturday. Temperatures average above normal during this period.

6 to 10 Day Outlook: Temperatures are expected to average near to above normalw est, near to below normal east. Precipitation should average near to below normal.

By Joel Burgio
DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist

Please do not reply to this email address. If you have questions or need assistance, you can reach us at or 1.800.655.8111

The National Grain and Feed Association (NGFA), with assistance from the North American Millers Association (NAMA), alerted the Surface Transportation Board (STB) on March 10 of major concerns it had received from rail-service customers. These included severe rail service problems and excessive charges involving Class I railroads that were experienced by shippers and receivers of grains, oilseeds and processed grain products.

The NGFA noted in its letter that rail customers "continue to be subjected to the disparity in which rail carriers unilaterally impose on their customers costs and penalties for performance-related issues, with no commensurate reciprocal penalties imposed upon carriers when they fail to perform."

Here is a link to the letter from the NGFA outlining rail service degradation issues and imposition of new and escalating accessorial charges:…

On March 16, the board responded to the NGFA concerns by sending a letter to all U.S. Class I railroads, requesting that they provide their service outlook plans in the near term and for the remainder of 2018, "due to increased concerns over deteriorating service." The board asked for information about each railroad's network, including locomotive availability, employee resources, local service performance, service demand, communication strategies and capacity constraints.

In its letter, the STB expressed concern about the overall state of rail service based on the weekly data supplied by each Class 1 railroad. The board noted that some railroads reported that system average dwell time has increased, as well as the average number of cars that have not moved in 48 hours. The board also requested that each Class 1 railroad address all the concerns presented by the NGFA and NAMA.

BNSF was one of the first railroads to respond, noting in its letter that winter weather, including heavy snow and below-zero temperatures, affected velocity and fluidity on portions of the company's primary route between the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. BNSF Railway President and CEO Carl Ice wrote in his letter that, "BNSF believes the worst of those impacts are behind them as the carrier heads into spring."

Ice pointed out that things have improved of late, noting that total volume moved by BNSF marks a historic high for this time of year; BNSF topped 200,000 units for five straight weeks and eight of the last nine weeks through March 22. In addition, he said that dwell time dropped by more than 7% annually on a year-to-date basis. This was in spite of two trains stranded for multiple days under snow and ice on the mainline track section of the Hi-Line Subdivision on the Northern Transcon and two simultaneous derailments in February on both the Southern Transcon and Northern Hi-Line (Montana).

In his report to the board on March 30, Canadian Pacific (CP) President and CEO Keith Creel said, "Our network has now recovered from the weather challenges to such an extent that volumes this month, March, will be our highest since March 2015, as measured by revenue ton miles. Overall, volumes to date have been in line with our initial forecast.

"We have seen stronger volumes than we expected in several areas, in particular potash, frac sand, fertilizer and intermodal. We have also seen an increase in demand for Canadian crude oil by rail given the development of pipeline constraints that have driven price spreads in favor of rail. Service challenges on a Canadian competitor railroad have contributed to an unexpected shift of business to CP as well," said Creel.

"With respect to NGFA's concern relative to the late 2017 timeframe, CP experienced significant outages on our mainline in Western Canada due to a derailment in a mountain tunnel in British Columbia, followed by a series of avalanches that took both our line and CN's (Canadian National) line out of service in the Fraser River Canyon."

Creel did note those outages did not affect U.S. operations directly, but did affect velocity and the flow of locomotive power. With regard to NGFA's concern with changes in CP's tariff, Creel stated that the changes in CP's tariff are reasonable and competitive.

Here is a link to all the letters received by the STB in response to their initial request:…


Despite the commitments made by Canada's two railroads, the CP and CN, to improve grain shipping in the Prairies, the path to recovery has been painful and slow. "Grain companies have fallen months behind in accepting producers' contracted grain, which has negatively affected farm cash flow. Exporters have incurred demurrage costs charged by West-Coast vessels. Country elevator space is critically tight on the Prairies, while concerns are growing that the railroad recovery could push cars into the country at the worst possible time, as yards turn muddy with the snowmelt. On top of that, weight restrictions on roads are right around the corner with a compressed spring season ahead as winter conditions linger into the month of April," said DTN Canadian Grains Analyst Cliff Jamieson.

Jamieson noted that recent data from the Ag Transport Coalition, an industry group that is responsible for shipping 90% of prairie grain, shows that the two railroads spotted 69% of the empty hoppers ordered for loading across the Prairies for week 35 shipping, or the week-ending April 1. "Both railroads spotted 69% of the cars requested, a week-over-week improvement for the CP while a decline in performance for CN. This is the best-combined performance seen in 10 weeks, after the two railways spotted just 32% of the hopper requested five weeks ago in week 30," he added.

"The backlog of cars ordered waiting to be spotted fell by just 89 cars from the previous week to 3,460 cars, the smallest number reported in eight weeks and has fallen in four of the past five weeks after reaching a reported high of 5,382 cars in week 30," said Jamieson.

Jamieson added, "At the same time, the number of cancelled or rationed cars continues to grow. This number increased by 659 cars over the most recent week to 21,851 cars. While this number has grown steadily, almost entirely due to CN cancellations, week 35 saw the week-over-week increase grow for the first time in three weeks. In total, unfulfilled demand is reported at 31,232 cars, or at 90 metric tons per car, approximately 2.8 million metric tons. It is interesting to note that shippers have ordered 298,055 cars in the first 35 weeks of the crop year, just 56 cars less than the number ordered over the same period in 2016/17.

"Of this unfulfilled demand, performance across shipping corridors varies widely. Unfulfilled demand into the USA/Mexico corridor totals 1,544 cars, or 4.9% of the total, while demand for south-bound cars represents 6.1% of total cumulative demand. The elephant in the room is unfulfilled demand to the West Coast ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert, which totals 23,806 cars or 76% of the unfulfilled demand, while demand for west-bound movement represents 72% of total cumulative demand."

Jamieson said that implications of the poor service are many, as noted above, and will be felt for a long time. "Meanwhile, the federal government's Bill C-49, designed to increase competition and increase railroad accountability, remains tied up in the political process in Ottawa," concluded Jamieson.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

Follow Mary Kennedy on Twitter @MaryCKenn


Mary Kennedy

Mary Kennedy
Connect with Mary: