Canadian railways set grain shipping records in 2020-21

CN and CP moved more grain in the past year than at any time 
in the past, each exceeding 30 million tonnes. | File photo

CN and CP moved more grain in past year than at any time in the past, each exceeding 30 million tonnes

It was a record-breaking year for both of Canada’s two major freight railways.

In separate news releases to the public on Aug. 3, both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway reported a record amount of grain moved during the 2020-21 crop year. For the first time ever, both railways transported more than 30 million tonnes of grain.

CN Rail said it moved more than 31 million tonnes of grain, exceeding the record of 29.4 million during the 2019-20 crop year. In addition, CN also moved 1.1 million tonnes of grain from Western Canada via containers with grain volumes moved from Eastern Canada.

“CN’s grain movement has been resilient during the pandemic, achieving 14 straight months of Canadian grain volume shipment records,” said CN Rail president and chief executive officer JJ Ruest in a news release.

Meanwhile, CP Rail reported 30.62 million tonnes of grain moved, as well as 590,000 tonnes moved in containers, in 2020-21. This is the fourth straight year the railway broke its single-year record for grain movement after reporting 29.52 million tonnes in 2019-20.

“The challenge created by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 17 months has underpinned the value of strong communication and supply chain collaboration. Despite a sharp reduction in demand this spring, CP and our customers have again broken our movement record, and we celebrate that achievement across the supply chain,” said Joan Hardy, CP Rail’s vice-president of sales and marketing, grain and fertilizers, in a release.

Both railways announced new investments in high-capacity grain hopper cars earlier this year, including CP Rail’s 8,500-foot High Efficiency Product train model. In their news releases, they also acknowledged the reduced yields in Western Canada due to hot and dry conditions.

“We recognize that growing conditions across much of the Prairies have been very challenging as many producers face extremely hot and dry weather this year. Our dedicated team of railroaders will continue to work tirelessly with Canadian farmers, agri-organizations and grain customers to have the resources in place to move the upcoming harvest for the communities we proudly serve,” said Ruest.

“Through May, June and July shipper demand was almost 15 percent below the same period last year, and 25 percent below the fall peak demand levels,” CP Rail said in the release.

CN Rail also touted its proposed merger with American railway Kansas City Southern announced earlier this year. CP Rail is also vying for its attention.

“The proposed CN-Kansas City Southern combination will introduce new options for Canadian farmers and grain customers to ship both grain and processed grain products,” CN Rail’s release said.

CN Rail published its annual Grain Plan for its stakeholders on July 30, while CP Rail submitted its 2021-22 Grain Service Outlook Report to federal minister of transport Omar Alghabra on July 31.

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