(Wyoming Business Report, November 26) – Utilities dependent on railroads to deliver their coal from western mines have asked federal rail regulators to step in and force the company to improve service.
The utilities prefer to keep at least a 30-day supply of coal on hand, so that they can keep providing power if bad weather or equipment problems stopper deliveries. However according to the U.S. Department of Energy, this year almost a quarter of U.S. coal plants has less than a 30 day supply. Last year that figure was just 13 percent.
BNSF has had the greater number of complaints from power companies. The railroad claims to have spent $5.5 billion on its system this year, increasing its fleet of engines by 500, adding 5,000 railcars and hiring 6,000 new employees. Plans for 2015 include increasing spending $6 billion.
Railroads have been under heavy pressure from increases in crude oil shipments and an abundant grain harvest, increasing 4.5 percent this year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“Power plant operators are seeking more coal deliveries by rail to rebuild their coal stockpiles, which were drawn down during last winter’s colder-than-normal weather,” wrote Tom Doggett of the EIA, adding that Powder River Basin coal exports from the Seattle Customs District were up 2.4 percent during the first half of 2014.