Rail service needs to be more timely, says data collector

Ag Transport Coalition has found that CN delivered 62 percent of requested cars in week requested. CP was 36 percent

Agricultural shippers that rely on railways to move their grain say more must be done to ensure that rail cars are supplied on a timely and predictable basis.

In a report released Aug. 19, the Ag Transport Coalition (ATC) said the weekly supply of rail cars to agricultural shippers was “highly variable” during the 2014-15 crop year.

Timeliness of delivery was an issue, it added.

“Lack of timeliness and predictability in rail car delivery has an impact on … Canada’s reputation as a consistent and reliable supplier of grain,” the coalition said in a news release publicizing its 2014-15 grain year summary report.

“Ag Transport Coalition members look forward to continuous improvement in the performance metrics through the 2015-16 grain year to ensure the transportation system is meeting the needs of Canadian businesses, contributing to their competitiveness and supporting economic growth throughout Canada.”

According to the ATC report, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway supplied the vast majority of cars that shippers requested in 2014-15.

CP delivered 95 percent of the grain hopper cars requested and CN supplied 93 percent.

However, timeliness of those rail car deliveries was a sore spot, according to Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association.

On average, CN delivered 62 percent of the cars requested during the week they were requested, the ATC report said.

CP delivered 36 percent of the cars requested during the “want week.”

Improving the on-time delivery of empty rail cars during the week they are needed is a key issue for grain shippers, Sobkowich said.

Timely delivery of cars allows grain shippers to meet their sales obligations, avoid contract penalties and reduce demurrage charges at port.

The ATC report said timeliness of hopper car supply was “consistently poor throughout the grain year and particularly poor in the November to March period.”

“Weekly (car supply) performance is very important to grain shippers,” Sobkowich said.

The western Canadian winter usually has a negative impact on railway performance.

Extremely cold winter temperatures and snow can result in slower train movements, shorter trains and longer wait times for shippers who rely on rail service.

Among other things, Sobkowich said the grain industry needs more clarity on winter shipping capacity so that sales programs can be established accurately, in tandem with rail car availability.

“We always see a dip in the amount of capacity available … in the winter period,” he said.

“Maybe it’s time we begin to discuss what sort of solutions are available for that, so we don’t see such an amplified dip in capacity during the winter.”

ATC will continue to monitor rail service to grain shippers on a weekly basis during the 2015-16 grain year.

“We think it’s very important that government and the industry have a clear and credible picture of what’s happening on a week to week basis,” Sobkowich said.

ATC members include the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Canadian Canola Growers Association, the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, the Inland Terminal Association of Canada, the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, Pulse Canada and the Western Grain Elevator Association.

Performance data for 2015 will cover more than 90 percent of grain traffic in Canada, the ATC said.

brian.cross@producer.com

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