Big train a-comin’ from southwest Saskatchewan

At 224 hopper cars at recent shipment of durum was the largest single-origin grain train ever moved on the Prairies by Canadian Pacific Railway.  |  SWT photo

If you blink, there’s a good chance you’ll miss the ghost town of Antelope, Sask., located about 40 kilometres southwest of Swift Current along the Trans-Canada Highway.

But there was no missing the massive grain train that was loaded a few kilometres west of Antelope by the South West Terminal.

The SWT train, consisting of 224 hopper cars, was the largest single-origin grain train ever moved on the Prairies by Canadian Pacific Railway.

The train was more than 13,000 feet long and contained more than 22,000 tonnes of Canadian durum. It left Antelope on May 26, destined for the Superior Elevator in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The record-setting train was another feather in the cap for SWT, one of Western Canada’s last remaining farmer-controlled grain terminals.

SWT’s Antelope elevator, which is partly owned by Cargill, was also named elevator of the year by CP in 2018.

“It (the train) was something that we worked on for quite a while…,” said SWT’s general manager Monty Reich.

“It definitely took a lot of work by our sales team and our procurement and our operations team to pull it all together, especially when you’re shipping out almost half of your elevator’s capacity in one fell swoop.”

SWT recently completed a track expansion project that saw each of its three ladder tracks expanded to 8,500 feet.

The project, completed a few months ago, gives SWT the ability to move larger trains and increase annual throughput. The elevator itself has a total grain storage capacity of roughly 52,000 tonnes.

According to Reich, each expanded ladder track can now hold 147 or 148 new high volume hopper cars.

The track expansion also facilitates incoming fertilizer rail cars destined for SWT’s new fertilizer warehouse.

SWT’s Antelope elevator — the company’s only delivery point — is located in the heart of one of Saskatchewan’s most productive durum growing regions.

And according to Reich, growing conditions in the area haven’t looked this good in years.

After coming through a number of dry years, most durum growers in the vicinity entered the 2020 growing season with decent subsoil moisture and have received timely and consistent rainfall over the past few weeks.

“We’ve got really good conditions right now, probably some of the best conditions we’ve seen in many years.

“I hate to say it’s perfect, but it’s really good…. The best we’ve seen in a long time, let’s put it that way.”

Barring any unforeseen weather-related setbacks, the area could be on track for a big crop.

Durum markets have also been steady.

Canadian durum has been moving overseas at a good pace over the past few months, thanks in part to strong demand from drought-affected areas of North Africa and Europe.

“There’s been good demand and good shipping out of our area so it’s been very consistent throughout the year,” Reich said.

“There’s already been good demand heading into harvest time so we’ve also put on a pretty good book of business into the fall.”

Rail service during the COVID-19 pandemic has also been favourable.

With reduced activity in other sectors of the economy, bulk agricultural commodities have gained access to additional rail capacity.

“I definitely would say there’s been more capacity,” Reich said.

“I think there were some challenges in the container business for sure, because of the pandemic, but as far as bulk commodities are concerned, there definitely hasn’t been any shortage of cars.

“We’ve been very, very fortunate (compared to) … many other industries.”

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