Great Falls, MT – Chris Christiaens of Montana Farmers Union and Presidents of North Dakota and South Dakota Farmers Union met last week with the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, D.C., to discuss the rate per ton mile increase in rail freight rates that has occurred in the three states. In the U.S. railroads are designated as Class I, II, or III and governed by the Surface Transportation Board. BNSF is the largest railroad operator in Montana accounting for 94 percent of the state’s rail traffic.

“It is clear that both the producers and the STB need to be mindful that the railroad is making the price in the marketplace and the farm producers are the ones paying for the transportation cost that is dictated by captivity and not by market demands,” said Christiaens. The STB established The Rail Customer and Public Assistance Program to provide the opportunity for the public with an informal access to staff and expertise to discuss a voluntary resolution of rail operational and service-related issues.

Farmers Union members meet with the STB Meet in Washington D.C.

Farmers Union members meet with the STB Meet in Washington D.C.

North Dakota is the second largest wheat producer followed by Montana and South Dakota. In North and South Dakota 54% of the rail system is under the control of one Class 1 Railroad. “Rail transportation is becoming a large expense for farm operations, and farmers have no tools to pass this expense on,” said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne. “We met with the Surface Transportation Board to get oversight on the monopolistic practices the rail industry is using, now that we only have four major rail companies in the U.S.”

Terry Whiteside working with Farmers Union attended the meeting. “One the major focuses by our meeting with the Board members was to educate the two newest members of the STB – Vice Chair Patrick Fuchs and Marty Oberman, about major farm producer rail transportation issues such as captivity issues, uniqueness of grain marketing, concentration of rail and its effects on grain markets, and review of ideas for ways to increase rail competition in the northern plains.  Likewise it was important for the Farmer Union leaders to hear the thoughts and ideas from all three Board members including Chair Ann Begemen about the future direction of the Board and personal thoughts and reaction to Farmers Union Leader’s ideas.  It was a great learning session for all.”