Railways now required to supply car movement info weekly

WINNIPEG — The federal government is now requiring the railways to release week-by-week statistics on rail car deliveries and movement.

The measure was immediately greeted with pleasure by farmers and shippers, including the Inland Terminals Association of Canada.

“Work is being done to make things better,” ITAC chair Eric Ponath said after a meeting with agriculture minister Gerry Ritz Feb. 3.

“Any time you take steps to have more transparency and to bring things more into the open so that everybody understands and knows what’s going on, it usually leads to some sort of concrete improvement.”

Ritz said railways will be required to release data on crucial rail car orders, delivery, unloads and rail car fleet size, broken down on a week-by-week basis and reported monthly rather than the present system of quarterly reporting. Grain companies and other parts of the grain transportation system will also have to reveal rail car order and movement data.

“Our government knows that action is needed now and in the long term,” Ritz said at a news conference.

Terminal unload numbers, western Canadian rail grain traffic to Eastern Canada, the United States and Mexico, and containers shipped to port will all be collected and provided.

Ritz said the railways are expected to deliver the rail cars that shippers order. They need to show how well they have done and be able to explain failures to supply all cars requested.

“It really doesn’t reflect the reality of the new reality,” Ritz said about how the railways communicate rail car availability to grain companies.

He said he believes the railways will be willing to co-operate.

“They have alluded that they can do better,” said Ritz. However, if they don’t, “government always has the ability to regulate.”

Grain movement far beneath the levels needed to clear the 2013-14 crop is vexing farmers and grain companies. Farmers often can’t move grain off their farms at all, and if they can, it is only by paying massive basis levels. Grain companies are finding they can’t get grain to port or to buyers, even with existing sales.

Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said he was glad to see Ritz move on the issue.

“It’s a serious situation for everyone.”

Less than two weeks before the Feb. 3 weekly reporting announcement, Ritz was in Winnipeg to announce the beginning of a five-year study of the crop logistics system. Many farmers and shippers said a long-term study, planned before the present congestion crisis, was insufficient to resolve the problems.

It was the early recommendations of the Crop Logistics Working Group that has just begun the study that led to the beefed-up reporting requirements, Ritz said.

“Our common goal is a more transparent system so that all participants in the supply chain, especially farmers, have the information they need to make the right decision for their businesses and the overall economy.”

Ponath said farmers should be relieved by the announcement.

“Our organization is willing and looking forward to working alongside all the stakeholders to find a solution to this problem.”

The railways said they are studying Ritz’s announcement.

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