CN begins recovery plan following railway blockades

Canadian National Railway says it will call back most of its workers to get recovery efforts started in Eastern Canada

Canadian National Railway has started its recovery plan after weeks of backlogs.

The company said in a news release March 4 that it is calling back most of its temporarily laid-off employees to implement a recovery plan in Eastern Canada, noting the process will take several weeks to complete.

In Western Canada, it said, CN has been well on its way to recovery, acknowledging it has lots of work ahead.

“We are rebalancing our assets to service customer sites for loading,” J.J. Ruest, president and chief executive officer with CN, said in a news release.

The recovery efforts follow immense delays in grain movement. The late harvest, CN strike, poor weather and blockades had largely put the company’s network at a standstill.

The blockades, which were established in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, have largely been dismantled, allowing CN to get back to work.

The delays have hampered grain shipments and have caused many elevators to completely fill up. There have been fewer farmer deliveries and some expect cash flow won’t be seen until the summer.

In fact, the Grain Monitor showed on March 2 that grain shipments to Canadian ports had dropped by roughly 1.3 million tonnes.

Ruest told Reuters the company lost the equivalent of 10,000 carloads or roughly one million tonnes of grain and grain exports.

He said grain exports will take the longest to recover.

He said in the news release that more than 1,400 trains, including passenger trains, were cancelled or delayed because of the blockades. He thanked customers and partners for their patience and law enforcement and governments for their involvement.

Mark Hemmes, president of Quorum Corp., which oversees the federal grain monitoring program, said on March 6 that more vessels have been unloaded and that farmer deliveries have increased. He said 922,000 tonnes were delivered last week. The week before saw 702,000 tonnes delivered.

“We’re back in business,” he said. “We are starting to see volumes approach what we would hope to see in the normal week. We have to keep going.”

Stocks are still tight, he said, but at least product is moving.

“It’s something that’s going to take a lot of patience,” Hemmes said. “They will work away at that backlog bit by bit.”

With the blockades and delays, farmers and agriculture business leaders have urged the federal government to take swift action, arguing it has hurt Canada’s reputation as a reliable exporter.

The Western Grain Elevator Association has said the delays have cost the industry $9 million per day.

In a news release March 4, the CN Agricultural Advisory Council said it wants federal and provincial governments, as well as industry partners, to ensure operations are reliable in the future.

“We acknowledge that CN’s recovery efforts are underway, but we emphasize that there is still a complex backlog that cannot be underestimated,” said Alanna Koch, chair of the advisory council.

“This is critical as there are customers still waiting for their product, farmers waiting to be paid and inputs like fertilizer that must be delivered in time for seeding,” she said.

The B.C. and federal governments have reached a draft arrangement with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Details of the deal haven’t been disclosed because it has to be ratified by Wet’suwet’en clan members.

Many have said the federal government needs to truly address the root of the problem, which is re-setting relationships and foundations with indigenous peoples, to ensure blockades don’t form again.

Independent MP and former Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has said the government should implement comprehensive legislation that upholds and recognizes indigenous rights, allowing nations to rebuild their governments.

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