CN increases grain car handling targets

The company said it has invested in infrastructure and recently acquired another 1,500 high capacity grain hopper cars

Canada’s largest railway has expanded its grain-car spotting targets for the 2020-21 crop year, which begins Aug. 1.

Canadian National Railway says it aims to spot 5,800 system hopper cars per week during non-winter shipping months of the 2020-21 crop year.

That’s an increase of 150 cars per week compared to targets set by the company last year.

The company also plans to spot 950 privately owned hoppers per week and another 850 cars for processed grain, pushing weekly spots to the grain sector to 7,600 per month during non-winter shipping periods.

During the winter shipping months of December, January, February and March, when railroading operations are affected by colder weather, car spot targets will be set at 4,500 system hopper cars per week, up from 4,150 cars in 2019-20.

On top of that, the company will aim to spot another 750 private hoppers per week and 850 cars for processed grain, bringing total winter spots to 6,100 cars per week.

The expanded spotting targets were included in CN’s 2020-21 grain plan, released July 30.

J.J. Ruest, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said the new targets are the result of continued investments in CN’s physical assets and infrastructure, including the recent acquisition of an additional 1,500 new generation, high-capacity, grain hopper cars, announced July 21.

The company is expecting to take delivery of those cars beginning in January 2021.

CN, based in Montreal, is coming off a record-setting year for grain movements in 2019-20.

The railway moved more than 30 million tonnes of grain across Canada last year, including a record 28.2 million tonnes in Western Canada. More than 1.1 million tonnes were moved through intermodal containers.

CN said the potential for larger Canadian crops and expanded production has emphasized the need to continually expand railway network capacity.

Agriculture Canada is projecting production of the country’s six major grains — wheat, barley, oats, flax, rye and canola — plus peas and lentils at 74.5 million tonnes this year.

That’s up from 72.8 million tonnes in 2019–20 and nearly three million tonnes above the three-year average of 71.5 million.

“Industry consensus is that baseline yield potential can be expected to increase two to three percent annually as a result of improved crop genetics and management techniques,” CN said in its grain plan.

“This type of increase quickly translates into upside on Western Canadian crop production towards 80 million metric tonnes within the next five years.”

Both CN and its main rival, Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway, are required to submit an annual grain plan, before the beginning of the new crop year.

CN’s plan is prepared through a consultation process that involves input from grain industry stakeholders.

Last year, the company established an agricultural advisory council to learn more about projected shipping volumes, production issues and factors affecting export demand.

“Over the last year, the …council has been providing CN with insight and feedback from the ag community,” said Alanna Koch, a Saskatchewan farmer and chair of the advisory group.

“Our input has improved CN’s understanding of the issues that matter to farmers and has helped to contribute to better service.”

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