Market Matters Blog
Mary Kennedy DTN Basis Analyst

Friday 06/20/14

Rains Filling Rivers; Shuttle Trains Slowed by Weather

OMAHA (DTN) -- Wet weather is affecting grain transportation on land as trains must slow down on tracks covering marshy ground and on waterways as water levels rise.

(Courtesy USDA)

Heavy and record rainfalls in Minnesota have caused all rivers and tributaries to spill over, closing roads along the way and flooding fields and homes. River levels in the Upper Mississippi River District have been fluctuating the past week and on June 16, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, closed three Minneapolis locks to commercial navigation. According to USDA's weekly Grain Transportation report on June 19, "This is the fourth time this season that the three Minneapolis locks -- Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls locks and dams and Lock and Dam 1 -- have been closed to commercial navigation because of water conditions."

On Friday, June 20, the Corps released a statement saying they are opening the Tainter gate at Upper St. Anthony Falls lock in Minneapolis, to reduce the flood risk upstream of the lock. The Corps said, "The National Weather Service forecast indicates Mississippi River flows will be near 50,000 cubic feet per second, or cfs, in the next few days. Opening the gate will reduce the flood threat to the area by allowing approximately 10,000 to 14,000 cfs to pass through the lock chamber. The St. Paul District will keep the gate open until the flows fall below 40,000 cfs. This is the sixth time the St. Paul District has passed water through the chamber. The previous years that this has been done include 1965, 1969, 1997, 2001 and 2009."

In St. Louis, river levels came within 4 feet of flood stage on June 12 and, while water receded early this week, the latest predictions are that with all of the excessive rainfall in Minnesota and Iowa, the Mississippi River at St. Louis will reach 24.4 feet by June 28, 3.6 feet below flood stage. Here is the latest on all river stages as of June 20 from the USACE, St. Louis District:…

Barge traffic has yet to be affected, but if waters continue to rise, it is likely that no-wake zones will be put in place, slowing barges. There are still delays at Melvin Price Locks and Dam, near St. Louis, Mo., (Upper Mississippi River mile 201) which is slowing barge traffic through there. Ingram Marine Group posted on their website that Mel Price Lock main chamber is closed for repairs, with an estimated completion of 8/12/14. Nevertheless, according to USDA, "Grain barge tonnages are up from last year, when quantities of grain were reduced by the 2012 drought."


The BNSF continues to be stymied by poor weather conditions causing service problems throughout its system. On Friday, June 13, the BNSF reported a derailment at Elk River, Minn., 37 miles east of St. Cloud with both tracks finally returned to service June 14. On Monday, June 16, BNSF reported multiple washouts near Marshall, Minn., 155 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The track was scheduled to reopen June 18, but service delays may continue for 24 to 36 hours through those corridors.

In his weekly podcast on June 13, John Miller, BNSF agricultural group vice president, reported that average system-wide shuttle turns per month dropped to 2.1 TPM, which is the worst reported since late March. When shuttle TPMs are at least 2.5, elevators face fewer headaches in getting their grain to destination and then back to origin in a timely manner. The turnaround for shuttles heading to the PNW was at 2.1 TPM, the lowest it has been since April. Miller said BNSF continues to work through service-related impacts experienced over the past few weeks caused by soft track conditions. Periods of dry, warmer weather are helping to improve stability of the most troubled subdivisions along the Northern Transcon route. The accompanying graph shows that while grain deliveries by rail at PNW ports are unchanged from the previous week, they have dropped from two weeks ago.

Miller said he expects trains will start to speed up. "Our Glasgow subdivision, which runs from eastern Montana to Minot, N.D., across our Northern Transcon route, is expected to experience steady, weekly velocity improvements through the month of June and into early July when delays due to slow orders will have declined from a peak of 328 minutes in early June and are projected to be less than 45 minutes." Miller went on to say, "Our Devils Lake and KO subdivisions, which run from Minot, N.D., to Hillsborough, N.D., and Dilworth, N.D., respectively, will receive a steady and substantial decrease in the number of "slow orders" for those segments each week through early July as maintenance crews return stability to the subgrades of those sections." Slow orders are requirements for slower train speeds to match the stability of the track. If tracks are not suffering from weather-related issues and are in good condition, trains can move faster.

System-wide, BNSF still owes on average 11,127 past-due cars and is 28.2 days late vs. one week ago owing 12,406 cars and being 28.3 days late. Montana is owed 2,129 cars vs. 2,691; Minnesota is owed 1,208 cars vs. 1,269 and South Dakota is owed 217 cars vs. 277 one week ago. Days late in Montana were still high at 31.6 vs. 31.8 days late vs. the prior week.

North Dakota is owed 6,137 cars vs. 6,360 cars the week prior week and is at 28.7 days late. Some shippers say that it's still a mess with end-users clamoring for past-due products and fight over cars that do show up and one shipper reported that it is a "jungle out there." An elevator in western North Dakota reported that he is scheduled to receive cars this week that he had ordered for April arrival.

Shippers on the Canadian Pacific line in North Dakota say they continue to look down the tracks to see if their past-due cars are near. One shipper said he is still waiting for a unit train to arrive that he ordered for February and as far as his late single-car orders, he said he doesn't expect to get them at all. Shippers are concerned that the upcoming harvest is going to be challenging if there are no rail cars readily available and the CPR remains backlogged.

Mary Kennedy can be reached at

Follow Mary Kennedy on Twitter @MaryCKenn


Posted at 3:12PM CDT 06/20/14 by Mary Kennedy
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