The Grain Growers of Canada is calling on the federal government to release the final report of the Rail Freight Service Review and a plan for fixing railway delivery problems.
“The immediate release of the Rail Service Review is needed as soon as possible,” GGC president Stephen Vandervalk said in a statement March 4. “The provision of predictable rail service is one of the most critical issues facing both grain farmers and exporters.
“We have been patiently waiting for the service review’s final recommendations which have supposedly been in translation for over two months; meanwhile Canadian Pacific Railway’s service in particular has been drastically dropping off.”
The delay has become a source of frustration among shippers who want Ottawa to force the railways into providing more reliable freight service. Canadian companies say they are losing sales or incurring extra costs because of erratic rail service.
Shippers are also worried that the longer the government delays the report’s release, the louder will become demands from farm groups for a railway costing review. The shippers say railway performance is a bigger problem than the level of freight rates and they won’t want the government to become distracted.
The review’s final report was turned into the government before Christmas with the expectation that it would be released in late January after it was translated and printed. Shipper groups keep pressing federal politicians and officials to stop stalling the release of the report. At the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said he understood the report would be public soon, which has become the standard refrain among Harper government ministers.
A spokesman for Rob Merrifield, the minister of state for transport, said, “We acknowledge there is dissatisfaction with rail service in Canada …”
“The government is still reviewing the panel’s final report but is close to making an announcement on the next steps.”
The delayed release is especially frustrating because a preliminary report from the review spelled out the problems shippers were facing, Vandervalk said.
Grain Growers wants the government to immediately prepare regulations for better service, to implement financial penalties for railway non-performance, similar to charges the carriers impose on customers, and to establish an independent monitoring and evaluation body to measure how well the railways meet their commitments.
“The time for stalling and delaying within government, within the department and by railways is taxing our patience,” says Vandervalk. “Grain companies are reporting only 65 per cent of car orders being filled, but only 30 per cent of that being on time.
“Not only can the companies not plan when to load cars, but we as farmers are at a loss to know when to clean out our bin yards to time our deliveries to the elevators. None of this makes any sense and it is costing us money in both delays and lost sales,” he added. “Frankly this is unacceptable. Farmers are customers too; we deserve better.”