Rail disruption leads La Crosse utility to truck in coal

North Dakota grain isn't the only commodity that has been tied up by a harsh winter and a boom in oil production.

For the past three weeks, an average of 30 trucks per day have been hauling coal 75 miles from Genoa to Alma in order to keep the fires burning at Dairyland Power Cooperative's generating plant.

The reason: The La Crosse-based company missed nearly two weeks of coal train deliveries.

Dairyland burns 1.2 to 1.4 million tons of coal each year at its 400 megawatt John P. Madgett station. During the winter, that typically means the arrival of eight to 10 trains a month carrying an estimated 13,225 tons each of coal from Wyoming.

But Dairyland spokeswoman Katie Thomson said no trains arrived between Feb. 28 and Wednesday.


"Basically the trains have not been running as often," Thomson said. "There have been issues with delivery throughout the winter."

Dairyland began trucking coal from a stockpile at its Genoa plant, which receives coal by barge during the shipping season, and also is receiving 10 to 20 truckloads a day from a Minnesota utility.

BNSF, which has a contract to deliver Dairyland's coal, blames the delays on harsh winter weather and a surge in rail traffic driven not only by crude shipments but grain, automotive, industrial and domestic container traffic as well.

The railroad said in a statement that it is expanding capacity faster than ever — the company recently announced a $5 billion capital plan for 2014 — but extreme cold limited both construction and the movement of freight.

Thomson said shipments from Minnesota are expected to continue through March to make up for stores depleted by the train delays and harsh winter.

Despite the added cost of hauling coal by truck, Thomson said the cooperative does not anticipate the interruption will result in a rate increase.

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