Havre Daily News
Gov. Brian Schweitzer sent Surface Transportation Board chairman Roger Nober a letter Wednesday, asking him to extend a scheduled trip to Montana later this month to meet with him, Montana grain producers and business owners, and attend public meetings in Big Sandy and Scobey.
Schweitzer said today that Nober is slated to visit with rail officials in Montana and ride the rails of BNSF Railway. He wants Nober to get a fuller picture of rail service in Montana, he said.
In Big Sandy, the general manager for the Archer Daniels Midland-Cenex Harvest States elevator said he has not seen a train come down the spur from Havre in almost two years. The company has been trucking all of the Big Sandy grain to Havre, where BNSF loads 110-car trains with a shuttle loader, Tim Bahnmiller said. The ADM-CHS elevator services 52-car trains.
"I want him to be in Big Sandy and Scobey," Schweitzer said. "I want him to see how much those communities depend on those spur lines. I want him to look those people in their eyes and tell us it's OK to shut those lines down."
A spokesman for Nober's office said today the chairman is aware of the letter and is working with Schweitzer's office to see if an extended visit can be arranged.
The governor said he will still hold public meetings in Scobey on Sept. 29 and Big Sandy on Sept. 30, regardless of whether Nober shows up.
"We've invited him to attend," Schweitzer said. "If a big shot from Washington, D.C., is too busy riding around on one of Burlington Northern's special passenger trains to visit Big Sandy, I'm not. I'll be in Big Sandy. I still know who I'm working for."
Schweitzer said Montana grain growers have struggled and are still struggling. Grain prices combined with shipping costs have combined to strain farmers' wallets, he added.
"What's left to be spent in the businesses in Big Sandy?" Schweitzer said. "They're having a tough go."
On Aug. 18, BNSF announced a reduction in a planned increase to shipping rates on 52-car trains. Originally, the railroad was planning to increase per-bushel rates on the shorter trains and decrease rates on 110-car trains. The reduction in the planned increase meant shipping on the 52-car trains would cost 14 cents more per bushel, down a penny from the original plans.
"BNSF will have to review (Schweitzer's) letter" before making any comment, spokesman Gus Melonas said today.
The Surface Transportation Board is a federal regulatory agency charged by Congress to resolve railroad rate and service disputes. It would make the decision about whether BNSF could abandon any rail lines in Montana.