Grain shipping off the rails

Car fulfilment numbers are the worst they’ve been 
since the crisis of 2013-14

The latest grain-shipping numbers are in and it would seem the situation is going from bad to worse.

According to the Ag Transport Coalition, car order fulfilment by the two railways was only at 38 per cent of demand during the week of February 12 (grain week 29). CN only delivered 17 per cent of the rail cars that grain shippers ordered — a historic low for the railway.

The numbers are causing concern within the grain sector, with the Grain Growers of Canada (GGC) saying railways appear to have been ill prepared yet again.

Grain farmers remember the 2013-14 grain-shipping crisis, and this year is threatening to be a repeat,” said Jeff Nielsen, GGC president, in a press release. “Once again railways are proving that they can’t be trusted to move our grain and proving why the grain industry needs tools to be able to hold the railways to account, or at least to be able to take our business to another railway.”

The organization representing Canada’s major grain companies added its voice to the call for action. Wade Sobkowich, the Western Grain Elevator Assocation’s executive director, described the situation as “dire” and also noted the numbers were the worst seen since the 2013-14 crisis, as was due to the railways using their resources to meet growing demand from other sectors, leaving grain stranded on the Prairies.

“It’s the same problem we’ve had for most of the crop year. They have put resources into other sectors and aren’t meeting our sector’s needs,” Sobkowich said during a Feb. 26 interview.

Both the WGEA and GGC called for the government to speed up passage of Bill C-49, which will give shippers more tools to address railway issues, including ‘extended interswitching,’ which both say injects competition into the system.

“If we had extended interswitching we’d be using it right now,” Sobkowich said.

Costs are already stacking up, including grain companies paying contract extension penalties for failing to meet delivery targets and demurrage payments to shipowners because grain shipments are behind, Sobkowich said.

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