As winter electricity demand ramps up in the US, regulators have directed BNSF Railway Co. to explain what it plans to do if it fails to deliver much-needed coal to power plants.
Siding with NRECA and rail customers, the Surface Transportation Board told BNSF that it must submit detailed plans to deal with potential shortages in coal stockpiles for electric utilities.
That is in addition to the weekly reports on shipping volumes and patterns that all major carriers must file with the STB.
The three-member oversight panel wants to prevent a repeat of winter 2013-14, when service issues and foul weather prevented many coal trains from reaching their destinations on time. Some utilities said they had to buy more expensive power to keep the heat on.
“As BNSF works to address its coal transportation challenges, more specific information on its coal service contingency planning is necessary,” the board said.
The order also asks stakeholders such as electric cooperatives to submit status reports to the board, so it can get a broader picture of the state of US freight rail service.
In a separate directive, the board proposed collecting key rail service data from all major railroads on a weekly basis. The rail industry has been plagued by service problems, in part because of foul weather and congested tracks.
NRECA and other utility groups have warned the STB that protracted coal hauling delays threaten the cost and reliability of electricity. In October, they asked the STB to demand a coal service recovery plan from BNSF.
The electric power sector used about 868.5 million t of coal for power in 2014, up about 13 million t from 2013.
However, coal inventories as of late September, the most recent reporting period, were running about 23% below average, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.
According to a weekly report from BNSF issued on 24 December, 59 loaded coal cars had not moved in more than 120 hours, and 632 coal cards had not moved in 48 to 120 hours.
Such figures marked an improvement from the previous week, when BNSF reported 197 loaded coal cars had not moved in more than 120 hours, and 434 had not moved in 48 to 120 hours.
Edited from various sources by Sam Dodson
Read the article online at: https://www.worldcoal.com/handling/05012015/regulators-discuss-coal-transportation-with-bnsf-1717/