Hello again, this is Jonathan Waibel. Just this week I finished the last of my job-shadowing sessions at Alliance Grain. This round we spent the majority of our time observing and participating in the elevator functions which pertain to rail loading. As before, JB Daughenbaugh, who is General Manager for Alliance Grain, graciously offered his time and insight, and personally explained the process to me. In today’s world of market inversions, it is often in the best interest of the commercial elevator to immediately sell and deliver as much of his basis ownership as he can logistically manage. In other words, Alliance Grain is currently maximizing their rail logistics to move as many bushels as possible.
Mr. Daughenbaugh took me to three different locations within Alliance Grain that were loading rail cars. Each was unique, and the various methods and procedures combined to provide me with a well-rounded perspective of rail loading. If the railcar is overloaded, then the railroad company will charge a fine for overweight and force the seller to come and reduce the load to the pre-specified parameters. This can be rather difficult, since some of the local railcars are first weighed in Mississippi or on the Canadian border. If too little of a commodity is loaded on the car, the railroad company charges something called “dead freight” to account for the “wasted” space in the hopper. To deal with this problem, Alliance Grain has installed scales to measure the weight of the railcar as it is being loaded and allow it to be filled up to the limit. An official grade must be given to the grain in each car. At one of the locations we visited there was a certified inspector on-site. This is highly advantageous as adjustments can be made on the fly by the loader to minimize FM, moisture, and other discounts. The alternative is to have the grain graded at its destination. The disadvantage of this is that if the grade were to show a higher than desired moisture on the train load, it is already a done deal; there is no fixing at this point.
One highlight of mine was climbing up to the “crows nest” where the operator(Tim) was filling the cars. Tim would communicate by radio with the engineer, who would then adjust the position of the car under the spout. When the scale readout indicated that the car was full, Tim would press a button and close the bin gate. As we travelled to different locations, Mr. Daughenbaugh pointed out to me that their original elevators were, in many cases, built right up close the railroad for ease of loading. Often they were also situated in the middle of a town. While it may have been convenient at some point, today it is better defined as cumbersome. Hard decisions must be made when a landlocked elevator needs to expand.
At our last stop I was able to tag along with the local elevator manager as he oversaw the loading of the cars. Two Track-mobiles were being used here, and they were pushing segments of 5 railcars at a time. I was impressed with the smoothness with which all the switches and run-backs were made. It seemed like ripe conditions for a pileup, but all the employees worked together and it ran like clockwork.
Overall, the experience was extremely positive. I have always noticed the trains traveling through our neighborhood, but I now have acquired a perspective of the railroad system that I will not forget. I am grateful to JB Daughenbaugh for sharing his time with me. And also to the rest of the team at Alliance Grain. Thank you!
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Grain & Feed Association of Illinois
3521 Hollis Dr.