April 16 (Reuters) - U.S. officials ordered BNSF Railway Co and Canadian Pacific Railway Co to report by Friday their plans to ensure timely fertilizer deliveries to the U.S. Farm Belt ahead of the spring planting season.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board decision filed late on Tuesday follows a hearing in Washington last week where U.S. agriculture leaders reported that rail service problems have stalled grain shipments and threatened to deprive farmers of the rail-delivered fertilizers they need this spring.
Railroads have blamed uncommonly harsh winter weather and heavy demand for shipping crude oil by rail for the shipping woes, but say that service is improving with warmer weather.
The rail-dispute arbiter also asked BNSF and CP to provide it with detailed weekly status reports about fertilizer shipments for six weeks beginning April 25, including the number of cars shipped or received at agricultural destinations and data on actual performance compared with trip plans.
BNSF said it would submit its plans as requested. The railroad announced this week that it had assigned more locomotives and train crews to expedite fertilizer deliveries.
"We understand the shortness of the season and the necessity of timely delivery in order to safeguard that producers can get this year's crops planted with the proper plant nutrients," the railroad said in a statement.
CP did not have an immediate comment about the ruling.
BNSF, a unit of investor Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Inc, is one of the largest U.S. railroads and is concentrated largely in the western United States. CP's network stretches across Canada and into the northern U.S. Midwest and Plains. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)