Havre Daily News
Local grain producers Friday will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about rail shipping to federal and state officials in Big Sandy.
Federal Surface Transportation Board vice chair W. Douglas Buttrey will attend the meeting, along with Gov. Brian Schweitzer, state Department of Agriculture director Nancy Peterson, Department of Transportation director Jim Lynch and others, Peterson said today.
“Rail transportation of raw commodities is of the utmost importance, and those decisions (made by the board) affect the people in our rural communities,” Peterson said. “The governor has requested that the Surface Transportation Board send a representative to Montana to meet with folks in our rural communities that are affected by the decisions they make.”
The officials will discuss a variety of rail issues, including rates and the abandonment of lines, she added, but the meeting will largely be an opportunity to listen to ag producers.
Buttrey said today he is looking forward to the opportunity.
“The idea is that we need to hear directly from shippers,” he said. “I look at it as an opportunity to hear from shippers themselves as to what they believe is going on.”
In September, Archer Daniels Midland-Cenex Harvest States grain elevator general manager Tim Bahnmiller said his Big Sandy elevator had not seen a train come down the rail spur from Havre in nearly two years. He said today he could not comment.
If BNSF Railway tried to abandon any lines in Montana, the decision would have to be approved by the federal regulatory agency.
The Big Sandy meeting, along with another scheduled in Scobey, was originally set for September. In late August, Schweitzer invited board chair Roger Nober to extend a planned visit to Montana so he could meet with rural residents. The trip was later cancelled, Peterson said.
On Oct. 1, BNSF instituted new shipping rates for 52-car trains, which serve about three dozen elevators across the state in places like Big Sandy. The increase in rates, along with a decrease in rates for 110-car trains, was originally going to create a difference in shipping prices of about 15 cents per bushel.
BNSF lowered its rates after a month of talks with state officials, customers and companies. The new rates represent less than half of the 15-cent difference.
The meeting is set for 10 a.m. at Big Sandy High School.