All cut up and no place to go

Michgian State Roundup

Published March 1, 2006  | March 2006 issue

Soft ground from unseasonably warm weather hasn't been the only—or even the biggest—problem for U.P. loggers this winter. Rather, railroad cars have been in short supply and getting more expensive.

Canadian National (CN) Railroad, the main rail service provider in the region, had eliminated some U.P. routes because they were uneconomical. Specialized log-hauling cars didn't meet safety requirements, and replacement costs were deemed too steep for such single-use cars, according to reports in the Mining Journal. CN also was using a large number of cars for southbound transport of materials to rebuild the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The rail company also refused to let other short-haul rail firms use its track.

The cutback slowly developed into a logjam: An estimated 50,000 cords of wood in the eastern U.P. were awaiting transport. That can be a problem; many lumber mills won't take logs that were felled more than a year ago.

At the same time, loggers and timber companies were facing price increases for remaining rail cars. U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak said some companies reported price increases of up to 70 percent. CN responded toward the end of the year with an estimated 50 percent bump (about 200 cars) in the number of rail cars in the region.

Ronald A. Wirtz