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Union Pacific Again Tops Shippers’ Survey; BNSF Railway Slips

08.10.17 | Russell Hubbard, Cherokee Tribune and Ledger News

Omaha-based Union Pacific has topped a rail-customer satisfaction survey for the third straight year, while Warren Buffett’s BNSF Railway slipped from the upper tier.

The Des Moines-based Soy Transportation Coalition, which represents soybean shippers, last week issued its seventh annual Railroad Report Card on customer views of rail service by the seven Class I railroads for the 2016 harvest.

Union Pacific, employer of 8,000 people in Nebraska, ranked first in seven of 11 categories, including overall and customer service. The railroad ranked second in on-time performance and third in value.

The rail-satisfaction survey is an important piece of commercial intelligence, but it has its limits. Steenhoek acknowledged that most soy shippers don’t have much choice of carriers. Most grain terminals are on one rail network or another, with only limited competition from trucks and barges.

That said, the U.S. freight rail network is the most efficient in the world, according to Larry Gross, a rail transport expert at industry consultants FTR Transportation Intelligence. In some countries, authorities have adopted an “open access” model, whereby shippers can contract with any number of carriers.

“Radical changes such as open access would need to be very carefully considered before a system that works pretty well by global standards is upended,” Gross said.

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