Railroad: Grain dispute resolved

BNSF Railway Co. says a federal court has already resolved new accusations by Montana's attorney general that the company broke a grain shipping agreement with a state-backed rail line.

Attorney General Steve Bullock sued the railway in state district court in Fergus County last week.

The suit claimed that BNSF violated a 1984 agreement with the state when it stopped making payments earlier this month to cover some grain shipping costs in central Montana.

Attorneys for the state say a regional monopoly could be created if BNSF prevails. They say the company wants to stamp out competition in one of the state's key grain-producing areas-a result that could drive up shipping costs and force farmers to drive long distances to unload their grain.

That would put new pressures on Montana's agriculture industry at a time when high fuel costs and widely fluctuating grain prices already are causing a strain.

The BNSF payments under the 1984 agreement at one point were worth about $1 million annually to the Central Montana Rail. That's the state-designated operator of the 87-mile Geraldine Line, which serves grain growers in Chouteau, Fergus, Cascade and Judith Basin counties.

For the past four years, BNSF and central Montana have been at odds in a U.S. District Court case involving many of the same issues. BNSF in May received approval from a court-approved arbitration panel to cancel its $884-per-rail-car payments with 30 days notice, court documents show.

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