CP Rail is pulling the plug on producer car loading sites throughout the Prairies, including two in Manitoba at Foxwarren and Strathclair.
That move has the Keystone Agricultural Producers considering joining a call for a moratorium on closing sidings used to load producer cars that was first proposed by the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS).
“In this age, when the world is so much smaller, taking out railway infrastructure, I can’t see that as being a positive… I don’t think it’s a good move at all right now,” KAP president Dan Mazier said in an interview Sept. 11.
However, KAP wants to look into the issue more before formally seeking a moratorium, Mazier added.
Canadian National Railway isn’t closing any producer car sites right now, an official said in an email.
The sites CP Rail is removing aren’t used and involve switches, which should they fail, can derail a train, CP Rail said in an emailed statement.
In addition to the two in Manitoba, CP Rail is closing nine sites in Saskatchewan and six in Alberta. (see full list below)
Set for closure
- Foxwarren, Man.
- Strathclair, Man.
- Tompkins, Sask.
- Midale, Sask.
- Cupar, Sask.
- Markinch, Sask.
- Grand Coulee, Sask.
- Wilcox, Sask.
- Moosomin, Sask.
- Tisdale, Sask.
- Qu’Appelle, Sask.
- Sedgwick, Alta.
- Daysland, Alta.
- Nobleford, Alta.
- Red Deer, Alta.
- Wetaskiwin, Alta.
- Ponoka, Alta.
The Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan (APAS) issued a news release Aug. 28 advocating a moratorium and also wrote federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau asking for that.
The letter also requests legislative changes to ensure closure of urban and rural sidings are subject to the same requirements.
“Producer car loading is an important source of competition and innovation in Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry,” APAS president Todd Lewis said in the release. “Shipping grain by rail is far more cost effective than hauling grain long distances by truck and results in a much smaller carbon footprint.”
Lewis said once a loading site is listed for discontinuance, it is extremely difficult to get it relisted.
“Although demand for producer cars has declined in recent years, our industry is very dynamic,” Lewis said. “There is the potential that crop diversification and increased production could lead to more demand in the future. This demand will not be met if producers lose access to their local rail sidings.”
Mazier agreed, adding proposed legislation under Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, to allow long haul interswitching could, increase interest in producer cars.
“If you (as a grain company) had no infrastructure… maybe these sites all of a sudden become relevant again,” he said. “That’s why I think there should be an outright moratorium. Until we get this transportation bill figured out they should stop all what they are trying to do because once we lose the infrastructure it’s gone.”
CP Rail said safety is behind the closings.
“Removing a producer car site that is not being used is necessary to keep communities where we operate and our employees safe by removing a track switch, which can increase the risk of an incident,” CP Rail said.
Most of the sites being removed haven’t been used in years, CP Rail said. Some are inaccessible as CP Rail does not own the adjacent land, or the infrastructure itself is not owned by CP Rail.
“There are alternative locations available within a 20-km distance from the sites being removed,” CP Rail said.
The railways are reimbursed to maintain producer car loading sites, by the freight charges for shipping grain, Lewis and Mazier said. It’s part of the maximum revenue entitlement formula that annually sets the maximum amount the railways can collect shipping grain.
“They (railways) will shut them down because they are in poor maintenance,” Mazier said. “Well, we’ve been paying for that (maintenance).”
The railways are obliged to give 60 days public notice before discontinuing a producer car loading site, but KAP hasn’t found such notices, Mazier said.
“That’s a bit concerning that they can willy-nilly decide to shut down a site because they decide it’s not paying for them,” he said. “It seems backwards to me. They are supposed to be providing the service to all of Canada. That was part of the deal when they got the rail line. I think we need to re-evaluate what is the value of a producer car loading site.”
Western Canadian grain farmers have had the legal right to order and fill a rail car with their own grain and ship it to market for more than 100 years. Early in the last century grain companies that built faster loading elevators, instead of so-called flat warehouses, received preferential access to cars. Farmers complained and the federal government amended the Manitoba Grain Act in 1902 making it law that cars be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. When CP Rail ignored the law farmers took it to court and won, giving them access to cars and the ability to bypass elevator companies, or sell to those without elevators nearby.