The U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of corn. To put this in its most basic perspective, corn is a major foundation of our economy. We export oceans of the stuff. The portion we feed to livestock keeps meat affordable. So I was struck by a press release I read the other day. A ship containing four trainloads of Brazilian corn had docked at Port Manatee, near Tampa, Fla., to sell to American customers, for animal feed.
Hello? What kind of bad dream is this? We sell you corn, you being the rest of the world. And yet it has come to this. This year’s corn crop, affected by drought, is down 13 percent from that of 2011, and is the smallest since 2006. Interstate Commodities Inc. plans to import 10,000 truckload equivalents of corn through Port Manatee.
Now the good news, for railroads, at least: CSX will deliver this corn throughout its network and elsewhere in the U.S. Still, you have to wonder: What is going on, for this to happen? Your comments are welcomed. — Fred W. Frailey
No, Pundit, you're right.
I am not ideologue to acknowledge the fact the global warming is real problem, and could have role to play in the drought that along with our ridiculous ethanol mandates is most likely responsible for our importing of grain from Brazil.
I don’t like ideologues, on the right or the left. Many radical environmentalists are definitely not the friends of pro-rail people like me in the Empire State. They and the fool rail-to-trail cyclists are currently trying to block the renewal of rail service in the Adirondacks.
Personally I think that their just a bunch of Prius driving, latte drinking lawyers who want to keep the wilderness to themselves. Don’t want a few good blue collar jobs moving freight, and throngs of tourists eating Coney Island hot dogs, to ruin the view!
I have read your posts and you seem to be a pretty level headed reasonable fellow, why so much anger towards me?
Dear Rail Pundit:
You also seem like a reasonable fellow, so why the insults foul language? Not only to find it extremely insulting that you think that I have “bad case of diarrhea of the keyboard”, but that I’m “incapable of rational thought” is really low!
Please sir if you think I’m a windbag full of hot air; then just say it politely please!
I’m sorry you thought me off topic, Mr. Fred Frailey end his piece by asking… “Still, you have to wonder: What is going on, for this to happen?”
I think climate change as a role in this corn shortage, and so I said so. Sorry that my comments are essays, I like write. I just feel with all the doubt some heap upon it, that a few paragraphs laying out the argument of why global warming this is a real problem, and not some liberal green myth was called for.
I have taken the time to lay out how I believe global warming has affected the railways out here in Upstate New York and Vermont, and what the future holds for railways and a warming planet.
P.S. Rail Pundit: Your comment on “ballast for freighters” was interesting; I would like to know what the Brazilians are taking back from the US.
Did you know that using coal as ballast on outbound trips from Britain was a major trade advantage that helped build up the British Empire?
Given that England and Wales where such large producers of high quality coal with a large surplus available for export, this allow British sail and steamship companies could undercut foreign completion in price by hauling a full load of cargo both ways. It was apparently a key advantage over rivals like France.
WHY ARE OUR RAILWAYS FLOODING SO OFTEN?
I believe that the scientific climate models that predict that the Northeast will get wetter are correct. Sure we have had are fair share of floods over the decades, but as Gov. Cuomo said, it’s like where getting a 100-year weather event every year or two in recent years.
There is no proven correlation that global warming will trigger more or stronger hurricanes, but the ones that do form seem to pack a lot of moister, that when it rams into mountains like the Catskills suddenly falls out all at once.
Last year we were hit hard by both Hurricane Irene and then later the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. Meteorologists where astounded at rainfall amounts in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Railroads across the state saw significant damage and disruption.
Hurricane Irene cause the greatest disruption to the railroads in New York State. Before the storm Amtrak service south of Albany was canceled, Amtrak’s 40th Anniversary Train became temporary stranded at the Albany-Rensselaer Station. MetroNorth’s Port Jervis Line was especially hard hit with enormous washouts of great length.
After the storm service Amtrak west to Buffalo was canceled for several days because the Mohawk River overflowed its banks, flooded the tracks (and Amsterdam Station) and created a huge washout. So much of the river bank was washed away that the concrete and steel locks and dams of the Barge Canal stood utterly bare far out in the middle of the river, the surrounding land was gone.
The Guy Park Mansion, a historic stone Georgian home build in 1774 in what is now Amsterdam suffered major damage, not only was the entire first floor flooded but some of the stone walls collapse. Never in in some 200 years had that home face such damage from the river.
This stately home is a landmark for those riding on the Empire Service; it lies right between Erie Canal Lock 11 and the CSX Chicago Line, just east of the Amsterdam Station.
This spring in 2011 we had more flooding when Lake Champlain literally over flowed and the flood waters set a historic record. Older citizens remember several bad floods in the thirties, but this surprised even them. Homes build around the time of the War of 1812 that had never flooded, had water rushing thru their doors.
Amtrak had to cancel the New York-Montreal Adirondack because the Delaware & Hudson became submerged underneath the lake. Canadian Pacific certainly had its hands full, just the fall before they were cleaning up from Irene.
Please Read (Flooding halts Amtrak's Albany-to-Montreal trains, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, May 4, 2011)
Last year I also attended the annual dinner and meeting of the Vermont Rail Action Network (VRAN) in Montpellier, where the focus was going to be on the New England Central successfully completing on time and budget the high-speed rail work that Vermont won from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Instead, the focus was on the massive damage and heroic recovery of the Green Mountain State’s railways after devastating destruction from Hurricane Irene. I saw a lot of the damage first hand, it was truly breathtaking.
Both the New England Central and Vermont Railway working hand and hand with the Vermont Agency of Transport surprisingly got the tracks repaired and bridges rebuilt fast! The New England Central played a vital role in ferrying monster size rocks from quarries to rebuild a section of state highway, where miles of roadway where utterly wiped out by a river.
Driving up from Saratoga Springs through detours and over places where bulldozers had just cleared new paths around or over massive washouts, I had no doubts about the scale of the disaster. You could see wreaked houses and crushed cars everywhere.
Roads where often one lane alongside rivers, the lane on the river side was now a drop off with only a few orange cones between you and the water below. A lot of flag men, construction equipment, dump trucks, and National Guard vehicles.
The governor addressed the gathering (Vermont is a very small state, so he just crossed the street from the Capital Building to the hotel) and made it clear he saw the railroads as the future of transport in the state. In terms of construction costs, energy efficiency, and environmental friendliness the railways won hands down over more roads.
And in some cases they were repaired before the highways where reopened.
This fall I again attended VRAN’s Annual Meeting, this time at Middlebury College where the college officials express the same sentiments. They saw both the expansion of passenger and freight rail as essential to their goal of becoming “carbon-neutral”.
Rail investment in Vermont has widespread support however because investments in passenger rail like the laying of heavy welded rail will also greatly aid local industry by bringing in heavier freight cars. The shippers and local chamber of commerce folks who attended these VRAN meetings definitely have this in mind.
Hurricane Irene reinforced in all of them a commitment to improving rail service in their state, with or without federal money.
And so this why I take global warming seriously, for at least here in the Northeast it seems to be having some large effects, from an earlier maple sugar season to a lot more water falling from the sky.
WHAT DOES GLOBAL WARMING MEAN FOR THE RAILWAYS?
That the Northwest Passage will soon be reliably ice-free in a few years has been widely reported in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Economist. What explorers like Henry Hudson and James Cook dreamed of, a shorter all sea trade route between Europe and Asia will soon be a reality.
Please Read (Record Ice Thaw in Arctic, Greenland by ROBERT LEE HOTZ, Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2012)
What will this mean for the western railroads intermodal business? Of course they will have to deal with an enlarged Panama Canal, and perhaps a rival canal through Nicaragua, but in 5 to 10 years the largest container ships will be able to sail direct from Shanghai to Newark without having to transit the canal (with its waits and tolls) or going around Cape Horn or Cape Good Hope.
Will this hurt the bottom line of UP, BNSF, CN, and CP, or will the volumes of freight between Asia and Eastern North America be so large that the railroads will still be able to make out like kings? I have read that the enlarge canal was thought to a minimal impact in the future, does the Northwest Passage change the equation?
The scientific consensus is that global warming will create more intense heat waves. In the last few years we have seen at the height of summer a number of heat related incidents including steel rails warping in the heat.
Certainly Amtrak has had its share of slow orders and cancelations from extreme heat. Here in New York my annual August train daytrip to Utica two years ago was horribly delayed coming home because the high temperature was playing havoc with CSX’s signal system. With the slow orders we were making 15-mph for 1/3 of the trip back to Schenectady!
Look at what has been happening with the Mississippi River this year, with its record low level of water.
Is this a onetime extreme event, or will it becomes a more frequent occurrence in the future?
If so, how will the railroads accommodated the new demand as grain shippers rush to find new transport options, perhaps with little notice as is occurring today?
It takes time and money to buy the cars, build the tracks, and marshal the locomotives to haul a harvest that as gone by barge since the 19th Century. Will the railroads invest in potential traffic that may, or may not occur depending on the water levels in the Mississippi?
Or is this just being alarmist, that in fact there is nothing to worry about, everything will be just fine next year. The rains will come!
Yes I know there have been plenty of heat waves and floods before, but still if they are increasing in frequency and length as observation and statistics seem to indicate, what can we do to make sure that despite the heat and rain that the trains run on time safely?
Should the railroads take preventive measures and raise rail-beds above potential high water, should bridges be reinforced, should rail lines actually be relocated away from rivers?
And give the current consensus that sea levels will rise at least two to three feet this century, will coastal rail lines have to be raised or rerouted like how the Southern Pacific raised the Lucin Cutoff in the 1980s? After all an investment like new rail line is one that will serve for not just decades, but centuries.
The Hudson Line between Albany and New York City is well over 150-years old. If New York State plans to invest heavily in this Victorian railway to boost commuter and inter-city traffic, should not the possible effects of climate change be taken into account?
RAILWAY OPPUTUNITIES IN A WARMING WORLD
Still, a warming planet has opportunities, including for railway expansion. The Times or Journal recently had an article on how retreating glaciers in Greenland are exposing a wealth of minerals, including rare earths.
The island’s government is keen to exploit the natural resources; especially since mining jobs could make up for job losses in the fishing industry. The retreating ice pack and warmer waters have pushed commercial fisheries further northward from the established coastal towns.
Trains Newswire had a story last year (World’s northernmost railroad proposed for Canadian island, Published: June 8, 2011) on the plans to build the northern most railroad in the world on Canada’s Baffin Island to connect a rich iron mine with a deep water port.
Just this month the Newswire had a story (First Nations support possible railroad linking Alaska to Canada Published: November 15, 2012) on renewed interest in building a rail link to Alaska from British Columbia.
The Wall Street Journal two falls ago had an excellent special on what it calls the “New North” which detailed changes in economies and population in the far north brought on by the changing climate.
Not only is there mining, drilling, and new sea lanes, but the grain belt is also expected to move northward. I believe that this will mean a new expansion of main line railways into the north, and given my young age I will live to see it!
Please read (Unfreezing Arctic Assets: A bloc of countries above the 45th parallel is poised to dominate the next century… Welcome to the New North, by LAURENCE C. SMITH, September 18, 2010)
And… (Churchill Port and Railway Owners Push to Ship Million Tonnes in 2008, Market Wire, November 05, 2007)
bjturon: You prove my point with your incredibly long comment. You really need to focus your thinking and say what you hve to say in a manner that will communicate to others. You certainly have not done that now. As for my comment, no apologies here. I used no foul language, and you seem determined to prove that you do suffer from diarrhea of the keyboard. I certainly did not force you to produce so much blather in a stream of consciousness format. Yes, I consider you a windbag. If you believe you are capable of rational thought, feel free to prove it in your writing. That's as polite as I choose to be right now.
guetem1, US farmers will plant what ever crop that gives them the best return on investment after some consideration of length of growing season and other factors. If the Ethanol Plants changed to Switch Grass for feedstock, then farmers would look at the sale price of Switch Grass less the input costs and then compare that to the same for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat, etc. What ever crop puts the most money in their pockets would determine what the majority would plant. Right now I would bet that you would see vast acreages planted in Switch Grass, and the acreages of Corn plummet to historic lows.
For the person who asked about Oranges, yes the US imports significant amounts of Oranges.
Hello Again Rail Pundit,
I suppose that technically you didn’t use any foul language, but you certainly seem to have a “potty mouth” that is very immature and not very conducive to enabling useful dialog. Would you want your children or co-workers to speak like this?
What you call “diarrhea of the keyboard” is what also could be called over enthusiasm. I actually haven’t in recent years written about or given much thought to climate change, since there is nothing significant that will be done about it anyways.
But I do very much accept that this is a very real phenomenon of growing intensity, largely driven by manmade factors, that seems to have a growing impact on my region of the country, from heat waves to record rainfalls. The recent storm events over the last two years have refocused my attention on the issue; I had something I wanted to get off my chest, so I did so.
I can’t ignore the issue, every other day the Times or Journal has some story that is climate related, from poor maple sugar harvests in New England to drunken forests in Alaska from melting permafrost.
Today the WSJ had two stories that include news on climate change…
“Polar Ice Melt is Accelerating” by Gautam Naik on page A3 and “Maritime Agreement Leaves Island at Sea” by Alistair MacDonald on page A10. Fortunately today the last three opinion pages didn’t claim that global warming is a new age cult!
The drought in the Midwest, the low water in the Mississippi, all are impart due to climate change I believe, and the news that we are now importing corn may be an economic manifestation of this new reality. Of course the ill-advised ethanol mandates also play a big role.
You stated that “You really need to focus your thinking and say what you have to say in a manner that will communicate to others. You certainly have not done that now.” I’m sorry that your attention span is so short that you are unable to read more than a few sentences. When your copy of Trains Magazine comes every month, you must just read the headlines and picture captions!
As for “I certainly did not force you to produce so much blather in a stream of consciousness format”… at least I included some referances for you!
I found this the most insulting… “If you believe you are capable of rational thought, feel free to prove it in your writing”.
Indeed I have, I don’t want to brag for I do have much to learn about writing, but for the last few years I have had some success in writing letters to the editor. Just this week I had one published in the Schenectady Gazette and another letter in the Albany Times Union on Tuesday.
Twice this year I have had letters printed in the Wall Street Journal, this was indeed a big shock that I take some measure of pride in. Writing letters to the papers is not easy, it indeed takes brevity which you correctly point out I struggle with.
I also write for my rail organization’s newsletter, the ESPA Express. In all these venues I must work very hard to get my writing up to the level required. Perhaps I have simply taken liberties with the comment format on this website, by being long winded.
You claim that what I write is irrational, how so? Do you disagree with my bombardment of facts, figures, and examples? Is my grammar so horribly bad that you can’t read my writing?
Please feel free to elaborate.
Even the EPA grudgingly admitted that ethanol added to gasoline makes a gallon of gas not go as far and that gasoline only vehicles get better mileage. It really only breaks even as far as polution and even tho it makes gasoline cost more and corn products cost more. But, as they said, it is all they have got and even though it does no good they will not do away with the demand it be used. Ah yes, they are here from the government and here to help (?) us. Go figure.,
The whole ethanol thing was a well intention political gift to Midwestern farmers; give some Republican candidates for president credit when in Iowa they renounced the ethanol mandates.
Ethanol makes sense with sugar cane because you can use the whole plant, which has a lot of energy in it. We should importing Brazilian sugar cane instead of corn.
Now some ethanol is needed as a gasoline additive, replacing a suspected carcinogen. But until cellulous ethanol is perfected (which can use the entire plant, including agricultural and forestry wastes) we should avoid it as a fuel, unless it’s for NASCAR!
Ethanol is good news for railroads, since it can’t be transported by the existing pipeline network. I have seen a lot of ethanol unit trains here in Upstate New York.
I worked in a rail grain marketing department. Here is my story.
Our well intendended federal government wanted to develop a source of renewable fuel and thought corn being plentiful was perfect. So it subsidizes ethanol 42cents a gallon and mandates it be put into up to 10% of the gasoline. ADM claimed recently it is losing 29 cents a gallon even with the subsidy. Now with shale oil, oil/gas are dropping in price making ethanol even less competitive. The largest ethanol producer in the country has gone bankrupt and we now have many plants built that basically make white lightning (pure alcohol) and the economics don't work. Corn has gone from $2.75 per bushel to $7.75 per bushel .so corn can be imported or moved a long way where it never would work previously. Corn in food and meat has gone up accordingly. The draught just made things worse.
The logical answer is to drop the ethanol requirement and eliminate the subsidy. I wish we could figure out what to do with all of these huge "stills" that are not paid for. Another giant government blunder that we all are paying for. However, to correct the problem will result in some ugly political fallout. Meanwhile, food prices continue to rise and impossible economics continue to satify federal mandates for gasoline.
The Drought. We're only at about 55-60 percent normal of precip for the KC region this year so far. And nothing showing in the radar for the next couple of weeks other than drizzle. Sure, there are lots of other things in the mix with the domestic use of the corn for other blending, but if the harvest was normal or somewhere near it, we wouldn't need to be doing this, right?
This is what happens when you make fuel out of food..........