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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2005

Good harvest sprouts demand for rail cars

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
A farmer pulls away after dumping his load of corn at a grain elevator in Custar, Ohio. associated press Corn waits to be stored in a grain elevator in Custar, Ohio. A farmer pulls away after dumping his load of corn at a grain elevator in Custar, Ohio. associated press Corn waits to be stored in a grain elevator in Custar, Ohio.
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A bountiful harvest, busy railways, and fewer barges on the Mississippi River because of Hurricane Katrina have created a huge demand for rail cars by grain elevator operators in northwest Ohio.

Grain elevator operators said more rail cars arrived this week to prevent them from hitting full capacity and shutting down. But elevators around the region are still nearly full of soybeans and corn.

"I got nine cars in today. In fact, they just pulled in 10 minutes ago," said H.D. Roe, general manager of the Northern Ohio Grain Co-op in Weston, Ohio.

Had the rail cars not arrived yesterday, Mr. Roe said, he would have been closed today.

"The harvest is slowing down and if we get some more cars in next week, we'll be OK. It's just a big crop and everybody wants [rail cars]," he said.

At Deshler Farmers Elevators Co., which operates northwest Ohio elevators at Deshler, Custar, and McClure, grain merchandiser Randy Tietjge said his storage nearly reached capacity Monday but arriving trains eased conditions.

"It's been tighter than normal," he said. "I think I'm home-free now unless I get some spillover from other elevators."

Rashesh Shah, rail group president at The Andersons Inc. of Maumee, said a good harvest and disruption of barge traffic along the Mississippi and other damage from Katrina have squeezed rail-car availability.

"We gauge demand by how many times our phone rings with people looking for rail cars," he said. "Even customers you have not normally done business with are now asking for 50 cars or 100 cars. That means their normal suppliers can't meet their needs."

The Maumee company, a huge grain company, also has a rail-car unit that is quite profitable.

Kim Skorniak, a spokesman at CSX Corp., said the rail freight hauler anticipated higher demand this year and boosted grain cars in use by nearly 3 percent. Still, it has been tough meeting the need, she said.

"There's always some kind of shortage of cars," she said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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