Grain transport group releases new report

The Ag Transport Coalition is publishing a new daily report that takes a closer look at the movement of western Canadian grain shipments to export position on the West Coast.

ATC, a coalition of grain shippers, elevator companies, commodity groups and oilseed processors, has been publishing weekly railway performance reports since early 2015.

ATC spokesperson Greg Northey said the new daily West Coast Grain Pipeline Status report will provide “more timely information” that allows the industry to identify potential problems and solutions on specific routes and make more informed shipping decisions.

“We’ve been working on something like this for almost a year,” said Northey, director of industry relations with Pulse Canada.

“Our weekly (railway performance) reports are important and they take a look back at the previous week’s performance, but our idea was always to have something that is more timely … something that … (shippers and producers) can use … to look at what is actually happening with their networks in near real time.”

Unlike ATC’s weekly reports, which focus largely on hopper car demand, car allocation and weekly car order fulfillment, the new daily reports are designed to provide a daily snapshot of what is happening on major grain pipelines to the West Coast.

The daily reports look at Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway systems with end-hauls to Prince Rupert and Vancouver.

The first daily report, dated March 26, said CP had more than 2,700 loaded grain cars on its rail lines leading to Vancouver.

That included 532 loaded grain cars that hadn’t moved for 24 to 48 hours, 114 that hadn’t moved for 48 to 72 hours and 156 that hadn’t moved in 72 hours or more.

By March 30, loaded cars dwelling for 72 hours or more on CP’s pipeline to Vancouver had increased to 427 cars, compared to a daily average of 140 in the previous three days.

Meanwhile, CN’s line to Prince Rupert showed 144 cars dwelling for 72 hours or more, including more than 100 dwelling for more than eight days.

“That’s been a trend that we’ve been seeing,” Northey said March 28, when asked about dwelling times and loaded cars online.

“(CP is) starting to do a lot better but we’re still seeing a large number of loaded cars that just were not moving.

“We’re not necessarily prescribing blame for this but the question that has to be asked is: what’s happening in the pipeline?

“If we start to see a build up and it begins to become extreme or sustained, it gives us a sense that there’s a potential problem with that pipeline, either at port or some place else.”

Persistent rain on the West Coast caused significant delays to ship-loading operations for much of March. Snow and avalanches in the mountains have also affected operations at both CN and CP.

Jeremy Berry, CP’s director of media relations, said CP welcomes the ATC’s daily pipeline report, especially if it helps highlight broader supply chain issues

“While there are minor differences in data (mostly timing related), the report is directionally accurate,” Berry said in an email response.

“We have made very good progress with our service in this corridor, particularly in Vancouver proper.”

ATC’s new reporting package comes as the western Canadian grain industry awaits the introduction of federal legislation aimed at ensuring adequate and more predictable service to the country’s agricultural shippers.

Industry observers say system-wide performance in the 2016-17 crop year has been generally good, but not ideal.

In particular, car allocations to branch-line locations have been problematic as railway companies focus on providing service to mainline elevators that move large volumes and regularly ship full 134-car grain trains.

One Saskatchewan grower said branch line elevators in his area have been sitting full for weeks, and some elevators haven’t seen a train in close to a month.

“Ask (the experts) why 30,000 tonne elevators with contracted grain are sitting plugged for two weeks waiting for a train?” the grower said.

“And why elevator reps say they are still cleaning up January contracts.”

Northey said there has been a lot of variability in service during the past few months.

Some elevators, depending on their location and service agreements, have been receiving good service, but it’s been a different story for others.

A senior grain manager who spoke on the condition of anonymity said some small block shippers on branch lines have experienced significant delays this year.

Larger shippers that use dedicated grain trains or ship full unit trains typically receive better service than small block shippers, which need fewer cars and request cars on a less regular basis.

“If main line locations are noticing slight delays in car allocations, then “chances are on the branch lines, it’s a lot slower,” the manager said.

“Delivering manifest cars to a branch location is a less efficient move for the railways so they tend to feed those locations a little less often.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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