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Freight Shippers Give Poor Grade To Railway Service

The country’s freight shippers have given CN and CPR poor marks for quality and reliable service in separate reports for the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association and the federal level of service review panel.

The NRG Research Group of Winnipeg found a low level of satisfaction among 262 shippers it surveyed for the federal review. Only 17 per cent of shippers said they were happy with the railways. In most satisfaction research, at least half of the customers would be in that category, NRG observed.

Meanwhile a third of respondents assigned low grades to their railway service and nearly half said their satisfaction level had decreased over the last three years. Almost two-thirds said “they have suffered a serious financial impact as a result of poor rail freight service.”

About one-quarter of shippers with more than one rail connection options are very satisfied with the service they receive while 14 per cent who have access to only one rail line are very satisfied.

A survey of CITA’s 120 members also produced widespread dissatisfaction with railway service in terms of on-time pickup and delivery. They suggested the railway service review panel should examine ancillary charges, error rates in billings, captive shipper issues, better on-time service, service cuts without notice or compensation, a need for penalties on the railways for service failures and accountability by the railways.

They al so complained about a lack of competition and escalating freight rates. Service cuts should be preceded by analysis of their impact on shippers while the railways should be forced to justify ancillary charges.

NRG found, “Most shipper dissatisfaction is linked to problems with:

On-time delivery of cars at origin and destination;

Timely pickup of empty cars after unloading;

Reliability of car supply, including timely release of cars into the system;

Consistent transit times;

Responsiveness of railways to problems.

Survey respondents said that while CN is the more efficient railway, it needs “to focus more attention on its customers and their service needs.”

By a two-to-one score, shippers said they weremore satisfied with CP’s service than CN’s.CN’s.CNwas credited with

being better at tracking shipments, moving traffic quickly from origin to destination and achieving consistent transit times from origin to destination.

On the other hand, CP got the nod for employing professional and knowledgeable staff, responding when problems arise and offering frequent service. It was judged slightly better than CN at placing cars at origin on time.

Meanwhile, a report by the Quorum Group of Edmonton for the review panel outlined the challenges facing the two carriers in operating nearly 1,300 trains a day for hundreds of customers. “To deliver effective rail transportation services to shippers, receivers, ports and terminals, every day they must plan, schedule and manage nearly 2,000 train crews, 3,000 locomot ives and 200,000 rail cars. They must also coordinate the interchange of an estimated 10,000 rail cars per day with other railways, including some 49 short-line operators.”

The 123-page primer on railway operations notes that “since railways, shippers and receivers operate interdependently, they need to collaborate closely for the system to operate efficiently. If they don’t establish effective communications between partners, they will all waste time and money.

“Problems in rail freight services can be the result of breakdowns in railway or customer planning and operating processes, ineffective communication between shippers and railways, the actions of other shippers using shared railway services or broader network issues.”

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