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Confusion over CN rail cars to Manitoba

CN delivered cars to Manitoba in Week 30, but they were back-ordered cars and not the cars ordered for Week 30

There’s confusion over how many rail cars CN Rail sent to Manitoba in shipping Week 30.

According to one news report last week, CN sent no grain cars to Manitoba elevators in Week 30. The Ag Transport Coalition (ATC), which monitors grain shipping for a group of grain shippers and farm commodity groups, says CN sent no cars to Manitoba in Week 30. However, ATC shippers did receive 254 back-ordered cars, Greg Northey, Pulse Canada’s director of industry relations, said in an interview March 5, 2017.

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CN Rail shipped 356 cars to Manitoba in Week 30, Kate Fenske, CN’s Manitoba media manager said in an email March 3.

The difference of 56 cars between what ATC and CN reported is for cars that went to non-ATC members, Northey said.

“The statement that CN did not deliver any cars to Manitoba in Week 30 was not an ATC statement,” Northey said. “It was a misinterpretation of the data within the article in question. The ATC is in full agreement with CN and would dispute any claim that CN did not deliver any cars to Manitoba.”

In her email Fenske said February was CN’s most challenging month in meeting car orders, but added there have been successes.

“Crop year to date, CN has moved over 20,000 carloads of grain out of the province (Manitoba) — approximately 3.5 per cent more than last year,” she wrote.

“Overall, crop year to date, western Canadian bulk grain moved on CN’s network is four per cent below the prior three-year average. It’s also important to note that we can move 4,000 cars of Canadian grain per week in winter. Through this winter, we are averaging 3,973. In February, our average was 3,016 or about 75 per cent of the 4,000 plan.”

Shippers aren’t as sanguine. Comparing grain movement one year to the next doesn’t reflect timely shipper demand, Northey said. The true benchmark is how many cars were delivered on time compared to the shortfall, he said.

Grain companies made sales based on what the railways said they would deliver. Failure to meet those expectations has meant contract penalties and demurrage for grain companies and delayed sales for farmers, Western Grain Elevator Association executive vice-president Wade Sobkowich said in an interview March 1.

“Through the first 30 weeks of the current grain year CN has rationed a total of 17,110 hopper car orders for ATC shippers, nearly six times as many as during the same time period last year and more than four times as many as all of last year,” the Week 30 ATC report says. “It is noteworthy that the discrepancy in year-over-year performance and the material increase in asset rationing is occurring during a year when shipper demand is effectively identical to that seen last year.”

In other words, the car demand is unchanged, but all the cars ordered for a specific week aren’t showing up on time.

Northey also said CN’s plan to deliver 4,000 cars a week, which it hasn’t fulfilled, is arbitrary. Railways should focus on meeting the demand for cars from grain companies, not a target based on how much the railways think they can deliver, Sobkowich said.

About the author


Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.


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