Complaining about the movement of grain cars and trains is a rite of winter in Western Canada. Producers in a certain region of the Prairies will grumble that the railways aren’t making grain cars available for their local elevator.
That frustration may be misdirected, at least when it comes to Canadian Pacific Railway, because the large grain companies control the movement of most of the grain shipped on CP tracks.
“Seventy-five percent of our grain is moved by the dedicated trains,” said Jeff Edwards, CP’s assistant vice-president of service design and car management.
“They are our much bigger customers that have control of X number of trains, each…. When a train comes out of the port, they tell me exactly where it goes.”
Edwards, who spoke at Fields On Wheels, a grain transportation conference held in Winnipeg in October, said dedicated trains have become more popular in recent years.
“(It’s) a contracted agreement between us and our customers, where the customer essentially has access (and) controls a set number of trains for the crop year,” he said.
“(For example,) once the train is unloaded at the Port of Metro Vancouver, that customer will tell us where it is going to next…. They will make that decision.”
CP still works with grain companies that don’t have dedicated trains, but “it’s just a much smaller portion of our business than it was three years ago,” Edwards said.
The Western Producer contacted Canadian National Railway to learn if they provide dedicated trains for grain companies.
“This crop year CN introduced new products and service options to meet grain customers’ transportation needs,” a CN spokesperson said in an email.
“All customers were offered the opportunity to sign commercial agreements with respect to car supply that include provisions for reciprocal penalties. We expect the majority of the grain CN will ship this crop year to move under these agreements.”
Edwards said grain companies like dedicated trains because they offer flexibility and opportunities to cycle trains more rapidly.
“As they get more efficient, they can spin those assets faster. If they can load it in less than 24 hours … they’ve just saved hours on the cycle of their train,” he said.
“This is a significant improvement in our grain handling system. They can lock in capacity. When they’re selling their product they know how much capacity they’re going to have.”
CP talks with the grain companies every day to manage the “dedicated sets,” Edwards said.
But the companies are in control.
If they want a train to go to Swan River, Man., it goes to Swan River.
“Absolutely. They can send it to any one of their elevators … if it (the elevator) is controlled by one of those companies that have a dedicated train.”