Grain shippers told to be part of rail service solution

Prairie grain shippers have been told they should not rely solely on government and railway companies to identify solutions to ongoing railway service issues.

Murad Al-Katib, a member of the federal panel in charge of reviewing the Canada Transportation Act, says marketers and grain shippers also need to contribute to a solution by identifying new and better ways to get western Canadian grain to market.

Al-Katib spoke July 20 at a Sask-toon forum on grain transportation co-hosted by Saskatchewan’s wheat and barley commissions and the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

“We need to do a better job of using all the corridors. We cannot ram all of the grain through the Port of Vancouver in four months,” he said.

Al-Katib, president of AGT Foods, said the CTA review process has completed its consultations with grain shippers and farm groups.

The review panel is due to begin deliberations in mid-August and is expected to issue a final report to the federal government before the end of the year.

He did not offer details on the types of recommendations that might be contained in the final report.

However, he said government regulation should not be viewed as the only solution to Western Canada’s shipping challenges.

Al-Katib said the agriculture sector needs to look at all measures that could result in better rail service. That means using existing rail capacity to its full potential, examining alternate shipping routes and exploring value-added processing opportunities.

“The most effective transportation system is one that comes in full and goes out full,” he said. “I can tell you right now that there are tens of thousands of containers going by Saskatchewan empty every year … that are not stopping here because we are not marketing effectively.”

Al-Katib said enhanced information and data collection will be critically important to determining Canada’s shipping needs.

He said all players in the grain supply chain are responsible for assessing the industry’s needs and devising solutions.

An efficient system includes adequate farm storage, modern collection facilities, enhanced information, improved logistical planning, efficient port capacity and adequate rail resources including grain cars and locomotive capacity.

All of these things, layered with better information and dispute resolution mechanisms, will lead to commercial solutions, he added.

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