Transport minister says grain movement is improving

The railways supplied 68 percent of requested hopper cars in Week 33, up from 53 percent during the previous week

Transport Minister Marc Garneau said last week he monitors grain movement daily to make sure progress is made on the rail backlog.

The minister told the standing committee on transport March 21 that service from Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway has improved after unacceptable levels.

“It is moving very efficiently at this point and I will make sure that it continues to move efficiently because there is a very large backlog and I want to get western farmers’ grain to market as quickly as possible,” he said during an appearance at the committee.

According to the Ag Transport Coalition report for Week 33, the railways supplied 68 percent of requested hopper cars, up from 53 percent the previous week.

CN continues to improve from its lows of 17 percent in weeks 29 and 30 and was up to 74 percent. However, the coalition noted the railway’s performance was below 80 percent for the 21st time in 23 weeks.

CP filled 61 percent of car orders; its eight-week average is 63 percent. This compares to 89 percent in the 25 preceding weeks.

Garneau said both railways significantly increased equipment and staff after he and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay asked for plans to eliminate the backlog.

“I am now seeing an accelerated movement of grain, which by the way is about 25 percent above the levels that existed in 2013-14,” he said.

MacAulay was in Saskatchewan last week, where he met with his provincial counterpart, Lyle Stewart. He said the federal government is doing what it can.

Stewart said he asked some time ago for a temporary order to force the railways to move more grain but it’s likely too late now. Road bans are in place and spring seeding is close; farmers won’t ship much grain until June.

He agreed grain shipping has improved but noted that comes at the expense of other industries such as potash and forestry.

“I guess it’s important that Bill C-49 has a good review by the Senate and then gets passed,” Stewart said.

The province would like to see changes to the bill’s long haul interswitching provisions.

“It seems like it’s too time consuming a process. It may never be used,” he said. “I’ll be talking to minister Garneau about that.”

The Senate transport committee was scheduled to consider Bill C-49 clause-by-clause March 27, which could put the bill and potential amendments back in the House of Commons soon.

Most grain stakeholders want amendments, including giving the Canadian Transportation Agency more authority.

However, it was unknown before Western Producer deadlines whether the Senate would recommend any.

In committee, Saskatchewan Conservative MP Kelly Block noted that the Liberal members opposed previous attempts to amend C-49 to make it more acceptable to grain shippers.

“My hope is that members of the Senate will take a very good objective look at the amendments that I know will come forward again,” she said. “I’m trusting that the Senate will be able to do what the Liberal members wouldn’t.”

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