Winter weather may slow grain barge traffic

The latest surge of bitterly cold weather engulfing the Midwestern and Eastern States may cause traffic disruptions like those of the winter of 2014, according to the USDA’s Grain Transportation Report.

Some U.S. railroads have put special operations plans in place for extreme winter weather that are expected to alleviate the worst effects of the winter. U.S. railroads originated 21,179 carloads of grain during the week ending Feb. 7, down 13% from last week, but up 16% from last year, and 15% higher than the three-year average, according to the GTR.

Continued recent freezing temperatures, however, have built up ice that is delaying the repair activities at Mississippi River Locks 27, near St. Louis, according to the USDA. Repair work requires announced closures of the main chamber at Locks 27, but weather conditions have caused re-scheduling of the closures and may extend the completion date beyond the expected early-March time frame. Extended periods of colder temperatures may also impact portions of the Illinois River, such as Peoria Lake, which is wider and has slower river flows that are more apt to freeze. Overall, the freezing temperatures will reduce water levels and may lower barge drafts and efficiencies, according to the USDA.

Also, the USDA reported, on Feb. 18, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District, began taking this year’s Lake Pepin ice measurements, which are used predict the opening of the Upper Mississippi River. Lake Pepin, located between Red Wing and Wabasha, Minn., is the last part of the navigation channel for the ice to break up because of its slower river currents. The navigation season begins when vessels pass through Lake Pepin and arrive in St. Paul, Minn. The average opening date of the navigation season in St. Paul for the last 10 years is March 24. Because of last year’s extremely cold winter, the first tow to pass through Lake Pepin and make it to St. Paul occurred on April 14, 2014. Ongoing work at Lock and Dam 5A, below Lake Pepin, until March 9, will prevent any upbound tows from reaching Lake Pepin until after the construction is complete. At this time, no estimates are available for the opening of the navigation season on the Upper Mississippi River this year

During the week ending Feb. 14, barge grain movements totaled 632,302 tons, which was 2% higher than the previous week and 12% higher than the same period last year. During the week ending Feb. 14, 424 grain barges moved down river, up 16% from last week; 855 grain barges were unloaded in New Orleans, up 6% from the previous week, according to the GTR.

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