Icy Illinois River impedes barge traffic, little relief seen
CHICAGO Feb 7 (Reuters) - Icy waters on the Illinois River brought barge traffic to a virtual halt this week, slowing transportation of grains and other raw materials to export terminals at the U.S. Gulf with no relief expected as forecasts call for more bitter cold weather in the coming days, officials said on Friday.
Some barge operators were "tying up" their vessels while other shippers were traveling single-file through a pathway in the ice on the Illinois River near Peoria Lake in the central part of the state. Shippers were also restricting tows to six or eight barges, down from 15 or more normally, as ice buildup narrowed chambers on the river's locks.
"They're having a hard time getting through the ice," said Ron Fornier, public affairs officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Rock Island district.
Shipments of grain along the Illinois River become more important in the winter season after shipping ceases on the upper- and mid-Mississippi River. The Illinois flows into the Mississippi, the main channel to U.S. Gulf export facilities, north of St. Louis.
There were scarce offers for empty vessels until later this month along the Illinois River even as exporters were bidding at the highest levels for barges since last autumn's harvest, traders said.
"All the barges are late on deliveries. It will probably get a little worse next week," a barge trader in Minnesota said.
Barge freight costs for shipping grain on the Illinois River next week remained pricey, quoted at 600 percent of tariff.
Below-zero Fahrenheit temperatures (minus 18 degrees Celsius) were forecast through at least the middle of next week before conditions moderate slightly, said Kyle Tapley, a meteorologist with MDA Weather Services. (Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; editing by Matthew Lewis)