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Thune: Railroads clearing up backlog

Railroad companies deserve credit for clearing up much of the backlog that had plagued South Dakota and surrounding states, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Wednesday.

Thune stopped short of praising Burlington Northern Sante Fe and Canadian Pacific, saying they still have a lot of work to do and will be closely monitored.

"We're going to be following their progress very carefully as we get into the next harvest season so we don't have a repeat of what we had this last year," Thune said, referring to typical delays of 60 days for those seeking to ship grain, ethanol and other goods by rail.

Those delays have been cut in half in recent weeks, and he is hearing that customers have been able to reserve trains for the fall, Thune said.

"It does appear the railroads are moving in the right direction. We are hearing fewer complaints," he said. "They've worked down their backlogs significantly and delays are much shorter than they were before. Their goal is to have all that backlog cleared up by the end of July so they can prepare for the next harvest."

Thune said he believes oversight by the federal Surface Transportation Board has helped push the companies, especially in delivering fertilizer on time to farmers planting crops.

"Of the 52 fertilizer trains they committed to, 43 have been delivered. They've made good headway there. I still think the STB's got a role here. They're they oversight entity," Thune said. "We are going to continue to work with them to be sure the railroads are planning accordingly."

Thune said railroad officials have worked well with him and his staff, and seem to be sincere in their intent to improve service.

"I feel like Burlington Northern has been pretty responsive to us. They've stayed in close contact with our staff and given us progress reports on how they're doing," Thune said, noting that he met with that company's executive chairman in his Capitol Hill office this week.

"The fact is, they were doing a lousy job. They recognize that," Thune said.