Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Backlogs at port may short feds’ orders on grain freight: CN

Canadian National Railway (CN) reports it’s “regaining fluidity” in its rail network and approaching the federal government’s mandated targets for grain freight, but warns grain flow may soon slow if it piles up at port.

CN on Monday said it spotted 4,456 hopper cars for loading at country grain elevators in Western Canada during crop Week 33 just ended.

For the third week in a row, CN said, it has delivered over 4,000 grain cars to Prairie elevators, averaging 4,366 cars a week, “23 per cent greater than CN’s average winter car-spotting performance.”

The federal government, by order-in-council on March 7, gave CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) four weeks to boost their combined grain handle to about one million tonnes a week, or 5,500 cars.

The government also then pledged further legislation to “establish measures to ensure Canada maintains a world-class logistics system that gets agricultural products to market more efficiently.”

However, CN said, with rail volumes “quickly increasing,” West Coast port terminals “could soon hit capacity,” in turn limiting total export volumes before the Great Lakes shipping lane re-opens and a “strong export grain program” can begin at Thunder Bay.

The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. last week announced that due to “unusually heavy ice conditions,” the opening of the Montreal-to-Lake Ontario portion of the seaway, previously scheduled for March 28, would be postponed to March 31.

“The Great Lakes have been frozen over by this winter’s polar vortex to a degree not seen in several decades,” Mongeau said Monday in CN’s release.

“We need urgent support from the Canadian Coast Guard to open navigation channels if we are to meet the federal government’s order-in-council.”

It’s “becoming clear,” he said, that other supply chain participants such as grain elevator companies, shipping lines and ports are “also straining to handle the harvest, given a full 50 per cent increase in the amount of grain to move to export markets.”

Blaming railways, he said, “or even worse, threatening to punish them with re-regulation for an outsized crop and winter conditions beyond their control” won’t help to move more grain, he added. — Network

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