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Friday Jul 25, 2014 - An Eye Opening Look at the Trucking Industry
Following the fatal crash on I-55, a listener sent WJOL a letter detailing her experience with truckers and trucking companies. Below is her opinion unedited.



I spend a lot of time on the road as our jobs are onsite. I work with many truckers who are working at the Intermodals. This is what I have learned and I am passing it on as it concerns me.

Many of the truck companies own only 1-2 trucks. The owner will accept a job, at say, $1500. It is local and it is picking up a trailer at an intermodal and delivering it to a location, say, Peoria Caterpillar. The owner of the small firm hires a truck driver as an independent contractor at $800 for the job, leases the truck to the driver at a set fee and makes the driver buy the fuel. However, in order for the driver to collect the $800, he has to make the round trip including delivery of the trailer and pick-up of another trailer and return the truck with a full load, within 8 hours. If it is beyond the time limit the hired driver gets no money but is still responsible for the payment and bills.
You know how long it takes to drive to Peoria and back and this seems to be a reasonable amount of time, but if you get caught up in traffic., or it takes a while to load or unload the trailer, suddenly you are running short on time, so you speed, find shortcuts, etc to make sure you get your money.
Some of these truck owners do not do background checks, you only need to have a current CDL. Some of the drivers can speak no English and require a translator. They cannot read or write English, but yet they have a current CDL license. They can't read the signs put into place warning them of possible slowdowns or construction or time delays.
They are of several nationalities and numerous races of persons. Many have only been here a few short weeks, came here legally, and have this type of job waiting for them.

Thought you might want to know this.



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Friday Jul 25, 2014 - Farmers, rail companies facing challenges moving grain
It has been a dramatic year for grain farmers.

A massive bumper crop followed by a hard time moving it across the prairies inspired the federal government to get involved and force rail companies to move more grain.

Grain production was at record high levels in 2013 – so high, in fact, that many farmers had no better options but to store rather than sell excesses over winter.

Grain glut hard on farmers

The 2013 grain glut really affected farmers like Curtis McRae.

“It gets stressful because grain is a perishable item,” said McRae. “The longer you sit on it the greater chance you'll have spoilage.”

hi-852-wheat-closeup
Although CN and CP Rail have upped the pace they ship grain across the country, farmers are still unsure whether they will encounter problems similar to those presented by the 2013 grain glut.

Nearly 76 tonnes were harvested last year – more than could be moved on the market – leaving no other choice for McRae but to shutter mass amounts of grain in bins on his property.

Some grain elevators were so full around the province that grain was stored in giant piles outside.

Now, on top of sitting on tonnes of grain, McRae is also holding out for prices to rise in hopes of getting more for his product.

CP, CN upping grain shipments

The federal government eventually stepped in and established rules on how much grain Canada's two main rail companies had to ship, hoping to ease some of the pressure from grain farmers.

Grain backlog points to need to modernize supply chain
Both CN and CP Rail said they are shipping more grain and boosting profits this summer.

There are fewer ships waiting for grain in the Vancouver port and near record levels being shipped out of Thunder Bay.

The railways said the grain would have moved anyway as the weather warmed up and shipping became easier.

But that's not how the grain companies see it.

“I don't think it would be in the magnitude it is,” said Keith Bruch with Paterson Global Foods “They were forced to put additional resources to grain, which I don't think would have happened without the mandate.”

Despite the increase in shipping, some think other farmers may not yet be out of the woods, with a lot of grain still waiting to be shipped.

“I think the pace has really picked up in terms of actually solving the glut problem,” said Derek Brewin from the University of Manitoba’s faculty of agriculture.

Brewin maintained, however, that the problem isn’t yet solved – that will depend on the size of this year’s crop.

Some experts have predicted bigger yields will soon become the norm.

McRae is just hoping when it comes time to move the grain this year, he'll have an easier time than last year.



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Friday Jul 25, 2014 - Valid concerns about trucks
Grimsby Lincoln News
Re. Trucks among safest vehicles, Letter, July 17

Trucks are very safe vehicles indeed when operated in a safe manner and in a proper location.

The initial letter sent in seemed to address the lack of respect for speed limits and school zones along West Street in Smithville, particularly by trucks but also by cars. It suggests that driving straight through a town’s downtown region is not ideal.

It does not question that trucks aren’t safe vehicles or that they are not properly inspected. It doesn’t call in to question the importance of truck transportation to our economy.

At one point in time, Highway 8 in Grimsby and Beamsville was a major east-west through way. As those towns grew, truck traffic was diverted. Only essential trucks making deliveries in those towns or garbage trucks, as the writer sarcastically pointed out, drive on the main town roads there.

As townships develop and grow, transportation sometimes needs to be re-routed. There are plenty of options for trucks to quickly go around the town of Smithville and avoid travelling through school zones and by children. This would still allow for our economy to run and function.

To send in a response letter that attacks an individual on choosing to move to West Street is pathetic, especially without direct experience with the traffic issue in the area.

I also live on West Street and think that the town needs to address the traffic issue in general. As more subdivisions are built in Smithville and the town develops, it is becoming even more important to find alternative routes for the trucks.

George Albert,


Smithville



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Thursday Jul 24, 2014 - How truckers cope with ‘sweatshops on wheels’
BY KAREN LEVY
THE RECORD

Karen Levy is a doctoral candidate in sociology at Princeton University and a fellow at the Data & Society Research Institute. This appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

LAST MONTH, after a tractor-trailer collided with a vehicle carrying actor Tracy Morgan and others, national attention focused — briefly — on the serious issue of fatigued truck drivers.

The truck’s driver, Kevin Roper, was charged with vehicular manslaughter in the death of comedian James McNair, one of the vehicle’s passengers, and prosecutors alleged Roper hadn’t slept in more than 24 hours. But then an initial report from the National Transportation Safety Board said that Roper had been working for 13½ hours at the time of the crash, just within the legal limit of 14 hours on duty with no more than 11 hours behind the wheel.

Let’s hope the discussion doesn’t stop there. The nation’s trucking system needs to be reformed, and the changes must address root economic causes underlying a range of unsafe practices.

I’ve spent the last three years researching truckers’ compliance with federal regulations limiting the hours they can work. I’ve spoken with hundreds of truckers and other industry stakeholders to try to figure out what drives truckers to work past the point of fatigue, and what can be done about it.

Truckers don’t work without sleep for dangerously long stretches (as many acknowledge having done) because it’s fun. They do it because they have to earn a living. The market demands a pace of work that many drivers say is impossible to meet if they’re “driving legal.”

In the face of rising consumer demand for overnight shipments and for fresh produce trucked from the opposite coast, shippers have upped the pressure both to move goods quickly and to keep costs low. Since many truckers are paid by the mile, they’re incentivized to stay on the road as much as possible. (As truckers are fond of saying, “If the wheel ain’t turnin’, you ain’t earnin’!”)

One thing that makes this possible is that truck drivers are explicitly exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act, so they aren’t legally entitled to overtime pay or other protections designed to prevent their labor from being exploited.

Trucking firms today operate on razor-thin margins in a highly competitive industry, and many of them, according to the truckers I’ve interviewed, put tremendous pressure on their employees to break the law by staying on the road too long. Federal safety rules are frequently ignored in service of on-time delivery to the customer.

Independent drivers, who own and operate their trucks, feel the pressure, too. They often use brokers to land jobs, and they say they lose out on opportunities for work if they hew too closely to the rules. A customer doesn’t want to wait around while a trucker takes a nap, even if it is legally required. And, the drivers say, there’s always someone else willing to break the rules if it means getting a good haul.

In an attempt to increase truckers’ compliance with the hours-of-service rules, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration — the federal agency in charge of regulating the trucking industry — is very likely to soon mandate that all truckers install electronic logging devices. Electronic monitors create less “fudge-able” records of truckers’ driving time, as compared with the easily falsified paper logs — which truckers sometimes call their “comic books” — that have been used for decades.

Guard against unsafe practices

These electronic systems will help guard against some unsafe practices, but they won’t address many of the biggest sources of trucker fatigue. Truckers will tell you that long stretches of “detention time” — the (typically unpaid) hours that a trucker must wait at a shipper’s terminal to be loaded or unloaded — are what really exhaust them, and force them to be on duty for far more hours than are legally permitted.

Most truckers are also unpaid for the many hours they spend completing mandatory inspections, dealing with repairs, filling out required paperwork, checking the security of their loads and many other important tasks that make up their long workdays. None of these activities will be addressed by electronic logs, and drivers will most likely continue to squeeze them into their required “rest” periods, as they have been doing for decades.

The road is an unpredictable workplace. As anyone who has driven on the highway knows, road travel is fraught with contingencies, from weather to congestion to accidents, all of which can make a trip take longer than anticipated. Add to that the other pressures to keep driving — economic incentive, employer pressure, the dearth of safe places to park and rest, and the desire to get home after days or weeks away — and you begin to get a sense for why truckers drive for as long as they do.

Economist Michael Belzer has compared trucks to “sweatshops on wheels” because of the low rates of pay, long working hours and unsafe conditions. To be sure, we should implement sensible rules that restrict drivers’ work hours to reasonable standards, and electronic monitoring may be a useful tool for doing so.

But electronic monitoring is an incomplete solution to a serious public safety problem. If we want safer highways and fewer accidents, we must also attend to the economic realities that drive truckers to push their limits.

- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-how-truckers-cope-with-sweatshops-on-wheels-1.1055954#sthash.fTACP9bt.dpuf



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Thursday Jul 24, 2014 - Future for trucking bright? ATA predicts so
Trucking will see continued growth both in freight and revenue in the next 10 years, according to the American Trucking Associations’ U.S. Freight Transportation Forecast to 2025. Between now and 2025, tonnage will grow 23.5 percent, ATA predicts, while freight revenues are predicted to grow a whopping 72 percent. However, adaptation by carriers will be key to enjoying the boom, says ATA, as regional growth patterns, technological changes and the evolution of manufacturing and distribution will make the industry more complex. Carriers that become “True logistics experts” will be the ones that come out on top, ATA’s report says. The report also predicts that truck’s share of freight will continue to grow in the next 10 years, though by just a few percentage points — from 69.1 to 71.4. Truckload volume will grow by about 3.5 percent a year through 2019 and then 1.2 percent annually in the next five years, the report predicts. But truckload carriers will use intermodal rail for longer hauls. ATA’s Forecast can be purchased as a bound volume or a downloadable PDF at www.atabusinesssolutions.com. Editor’s Note: This post was originally written by the staff of Overdrive Online. - See more at: http://www.betterroads.com/future-for-trucking-bright-ata-predicts-so/#sthash.zqUgWNZN.dpuf



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Wednesday Jul 23, 2014 - Big Rigs Become Robot Convoys
July 23 (Bloomberg) –- Peloton Technology has developed a vehicle-to-vehicle communication system that has the potential to transform the trucking industry. By tethering two trucks together using advanced sensing intercommunications, the Silicon Valley startup says they can improve safety while cutting costs for thousands of trucks on the road. Video by: Sadie Bass, Justin Beach. (Source: Bloomberg)

VIDEO: Future of Trucking: Big Rigs Become Robot Convoys



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Wednesday Jul 23, 2014 - Wisconsin feed mill fire causes extensive damage
Associated Press

A Green Bay-area fire chief says a livestock feed mill has sustained more than $1 million in damages from a fire.

The Pulaski Tri-County Fire Department chief tells Press-Gazette Media there were no reports of injuries at the Nutrition Service Co. grain processer fire near Pulaski on Monday.

WLUK-TV reports at least 16 local agencies helped battle the flames from a soybean dryer.

About 20 fire trucks from local agencies worked to extinguish the flames from early afternoon into the night.



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Wednesday Jul 23, 2014 - U.S. grain farmers resort to giant storage bags to avoid cheap sales
BY KARL PLUME

(Reuters) - As U.S. farmers turn in record grain crops this autumn, many will have a powerful new tool - giant sausage-shaped storage bags - to help them avoid the lowest prices in years and gain more control over trade with giants such as Cargill Inc.

Demand has surged this summer for the white polyethylene bags the length of a football field and the equipment required to fill them, according to manufacturers and wholesalers.

They allow farmers to store millions of bushels of corn and soybeans at a fraction the cost of conventional silos and far more efficiently than leaving grain in the open air.

The bags, which are about 300-foot (91-m) long and 10 feet in diameter, are common on the Argentine Pampas but until recently a rare sight in the U.S. Midwest, where the expansion of big elevators and 50-foot high silos has generally kept pace with ever-expanding crops.

But with many bins still overflowing with last year's crop in the world's top grain grower, farmers are snapping up these systems as a practical necessity ahead of bumper harvests, and as a safeguard against another winter of railroad delays.

They may also be a sign that farmers will not be rushed into dumping their harvests quickly. Prices for corn to be harvested in autumn have tumbled as much as 18 percent so far this year, leaving growers hoping for a rebound.

"This year, with the Canadian and the U.S. markets both demanding product, we're running overtime and trying to keep up with orders," said Jerry Sechler, vice-president of sales at Loftness Specialized Equipment Inc, a Hector, Minnesota-based privately-owned firm that introduced bagging machines into the United States in 2008 after studying operations in Argentina.

The systems also represent the latest front in an ongoing power struggle in the rural heartland between farmers, who want more say in how and when their crops are sold, and merchants such as Archer Daniels Midland and Bunge Ltd, who control the main arteries of trade.

ADM and Bunge have cited the expansion of on- and off-farm grain storage capacity for their slumping agribusiness margins in recent quarters as it is forcing them to pay up for grain to keep exports flowing and processing plants running.

"Within the last year, that fact has had a negative impact on overall margins in the grain chain. I think it will take another good crop for that to reverse," Bunge CEO Soren Schroder told Reuters.

MORE TO STORE

Years of high prices on record production helped by fencerow-to-fencerow plantings and historic gains in yield have given farmers healthy profits that they can spend on storage to see them through rough times, like this year.

On- and off-farm storage capacity jumped 20 percent in the decade to Dec. 1, 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with some of the biggest gains of more 30 percent in North and South Dakota, as farmers switched to corn, which yields about twice as many bushels per acre than the area's traditional wheat crop.

Firms such as CTB, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc, make the traditional metal storage silos that can be seen across the U.S. grain belt.

Now, in the Dakotas and elsewhere in the northern U.S. Plains, where winter's rail problems had already stranded a large share of last year's crop, bagging equipment suppliers are scrambling to keep up with demand.

"There are people that would have never bagged three years ago that are now almost forced to consider it because the elevators just can't take any grain with the railroad not getting their job done," said Craig Fisher, a farmer in Richardton, North Dakota and owner of Antelope Farm Supplies, which sells bags and bagging equipment.

His sales of bagging machines have exploded in just the past week after a patchy start to the season due to adverse weather which had kept production prospects clouded.

"Everything I've got is spoken for now and I've had to reorder. We had some come in today and those are already sold."

Fisher is now expecting a 25 percent jump in bagging equipment sales this year, after a similar jump in 2013, based on inquiries from customers. He has also sold two semi-truck loads of the plastic bags this summer and is awaiting a third 96-bag truck in about a week.

LOCK IT AWAY, THROW AWAY THE KEY

Bagging keeps grain in better condition and for longer than the standard U.S. practice of piling surplus on the ground and covering it with tarps. The white outside reflects the sun's heat while the inner layer is black, acting as a barrier to sunlight and helping maintain a lower than ambient temperature inside.

The cost of storage in a single-use bag is around 5 to 7 cents per bushel, plus charges for loading and unloading equipment, which together can come to anywhere between $60,000 and $160,000.

GrainLogix, the system made by Loftness, can stuff 30,000 bushels an hour -- nearly filling a whole bag of the kind made by companies like Up North Plastics which can store up to 34,000 bushels of grain.

By comparison, permanent storage costs $1.50 to $2.00 per bushel to build, or several hundreds of thousands of dollars, with waiting lists for installation often months long.

With the harvest slated to begin in a matter of weeks, the white sausages could lead farmers into a post-harvest stand-off with the grains merchants and push food costs higher.

John Brink, who grows corn on about 1,000 acres (400 hectares) near Centralia, Ill., said he expected to store most of his crop until prices rise and thought other farmers would do the same.

"We'll lock it away," he said. "We'll slam the door shut and throw away the key for a while."

(Additional reporting by Thomas Polansek; Editing by Marguerita Choy)



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Tuesday Jul 22, 2014 - Truckers Sue FMCSA Over Motor Carrier Management Information System
A group of truck drivers has filed a federal lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the U.S. Transportation Department over records the agency keeps on carriers and drivers.

The Boston Business Journal reports the drivers claim the release of some data from the government's Motor Carrier Management Information System, known as MCMIS, to potential employers is inappropriate and interferes with their ability to get jobs.

The suit claims the agency has released driver violations that are not that serious, violating U.S. Transportation Department regulations, with as many as 10,000 truckers having had records of relatively minor violations released.

The Plaintiffs are seeking class action status and a $1,000 for each alleged release of minor infractions by FMCSA. There is no indication over how many alleged infractions this totals by the agency, according to the story.

When contacted about the case, the FMCSA told Truckinginfo.com, “As a matter of agency policy, we do not comment on litigation.”

Read more about the case from the Boston Business Journal.



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Tuesday Jul 22, 2014 - Traders Use Trucks, Trains to Ease West Texas Oil Glut
By Dan Murtaugh http://www.businessweek.com/

Traders are turning to trains and trucks to clear a glut of crude in West Texas that’s threatening to keep prices in the largest U.S. oil basin depressed for months.

West Texas Intermediate crude in Midland, Texas, has averaged $7.15-a-barrel less this year than the same grade in Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for New York-traded oil futures. The gap was $9 today, and is on pace to be the largest annual discount in data compiled by Bloomberg dating to 1991. Crude loading has increased in recent months at Watco Companies LLC ’s 30,000 barrel-a-day terminal in Pecos, according to Allan Roach, a senior vice president.

The price gap has emerged as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing have nearly doubled Permian production in the past five years, overwhelming pipeline capacity. The glut will continue until Plains All-America Pipeline LP completes an 80 mile-long line connecting Midland to Colorado City, where larger pipes ship crude out of the region. For now, the oil will have to be sold cheaply enough to allow buyers to ship it on trains to the Gulf and West Coasts, or truck it up to Cushing.

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“The discounts could last longer than many in the market have anticipated given the significant production increases that are occurring in the Permian Basin,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates LLC in Houston.

Output in the Permian, the largest onshore oil field in the U.S., has jumped by 91 percent since August 2009 to 1.63 million barrels a day, Energy Information Administration data show.

Pipeline Capacity

Current pipeline capacity out of the region is 1.27 million barrels a day, according to Pioneer Natural Resources Ltd.’s July investor presentation. Magellan Midstream Partners LP (MMP:US) and Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY:US) are filling a new pipeline, BridgeTex, that will add 300,000 barrels a day of space.

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BridgeTex starts in Colorado City, about 80 miles northeast of Midland. Right now there are two pipelines connecting the cities, Basin and Mesa, which can ship a combined 800,000 barrels a day. Basin extends to Cushing, carrying as much as 450,000 barrels a day, and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP (SXL:US)’s West Texas Gulf line can move 400,000 barrels a day to the Houston area.

That means BridgeTex can’t relieve the glut at Midland until Plains completes the 250,000-barrel-a-day Sunrise line. Construction began May 1, according to a filing with the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the company expects it to start operating in early 2015.

Critical Piece

“One of the big additions that we’re having to make, going east out of Midland, which is becoming a critical piece to feed a lot of that is basically going up to Colorado City,” Mark Gorman, executive vice president of Houston-based Plains, said on a June 5 conference call. “That corridor has completely fallen. It’s a critical corridor to feed some of the new pipeline expansions that’ll be coming on.”

STORY: California Drivers Pay a Lot for Costly Alaskan Oil
Until the pipeline comes online, Midland prices will need to be discounted enough to support other forms of transportation, Rangeland Energy LLC’s vice president for business development, Pat McGannon, said July 16 at the American Business Conference’s Permian Basin Takeaway Capacity & Product Market Conference in Houston.

Midland prices need to be about $8.50 a barrel less than Light Louisiana Sweet in St. James, Louisiana, to make rail shipments economic, he said. The differential was $15.45 today.

West Texas Sour, a high-sulfur crude traded in Midland, needs to be about $10.50 a barrel less than Alaska North Slope crude to make it worth railing to California. It was $13 today.

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When Midland prices are $6 or $7 below Cushing, it can be economic to truck crude from the Permian to the Oklahoma oil hub about 500 miles away, Brian Melton, vice president for pipeline marketing and business development for Blueknight Energy Partners LP (BKEP:US), said July 16 in Houston. Blueknight made shipments for producers late last year and this year, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Murtaugh in Houston at dmurtaugh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Marino at dmarino4@bloomberg.net Stephen Cunningham



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