Time is running out on rail service legislation

Federal legislation aimed at addressing the transportation concerns of western Canadian grain shippers is expected to be introduced this spring, according to federal and provincial politicians.

But time is running short, say grain industry groups.

“We’re definitely getting down to the wire,” said Greg Northey, a director with Pulse Canada.

“The expectation was that it was going to come this spring … so I think that’s still the expectation.

“But if it’s going to be passed by the time the House rises in June and in time to address the sunsetting clauses in Bill C-30 (related to interswitching), … then they’ll need to have the legislation pass quickly….”

The federal government has indicated that legislation on rail grain movement will be introduced and passed in the current parliamentary session.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart repeated that claim last month when he spoke to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities in Saskatoon.

But the clock is ticking. Parliament is scheduled to break for Easter April 14. The House of Commons will resume sitting May 1.

Northey said grain industry representative are optimistic that federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau will introduce a bill that addresses the concerns of small and large shippers alike.

Specifically, the industry wants legislation that offers an im-proved definition of what constitutes “adequate and suitable” rail service and reciprocal penalties to be included in service agreements.

Provisions for extended interswitching distances are also on the grain industry’s wish list.

Variability in rail service has been a prevalent issue for grain shippers across the West this spring. Some prairie grain elevators have enjoyed good service and regular train movements while others are months behind.

Small block shippers in particular have struggled to secure the grain cars they need to meet sales obligations.

“It’s highly variable,” said Northey. “There are some who suffer disproportionately more than others.”

Northey said rail capacity issues must be addressed to ensure that all shippers have the ability to move grain in a timely fashion and expand their shipping programs.

“Every shipper has a program, no matter how big or small they are, and they also have contracts that they have to meet,” he said.

“The amount of trade and exports that you do should not be limited, no matter what size you are, by the railways dividing up capacity. It’s suppression of the ability to run a sales program and grow business.”

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