CN promises to get grain moving

"We apologize for not meeting the expectations of our grain customers, nor our own high standards." - Canadian National Railway interim president Jean-Jacques Ruest | File photo

Canadian National Railway interim president Jean-Jacques Ruest says the company will clear grain backlogs across its network.

In a news release issued March 7, Ruest said additional staff and equipment will be deployed.

“We apologize for not meeting the expectations of our grain customers, nor our own high standards,” he said.

“The entire CN team has a sense of urgency and is fully focused on getting it right for farmers and our grain customers, regaining the confidence of Canadian businesses and protecting Canada’s reputation as a stable trade partner in world markets.”

The release comes a day after Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay wrote to both major railways asking them to improve their performance.

While grain transportation is a major concern on the Prairies, the letter notes that the ministers have also heard from forestry, energy and chemical shippers who have lost business due to poor rail service.

The ministers said it is “imperative” that action be taken.

“To these ends, we are requesting that you provide the following information: one, a clear description of how your companies intend to mitigate the immediate backlog in the coming weeks, and two, your plans for maintaining fluidity for the remainder of the current crop season once the backlog is clear,” the letter said.

The ministers asked the railways to post their information on their websites by March 15.

CN said it will offer incentives to employees to delay retirement and postpone vacations, deploy qualified management to operate extra trains and add crews in Western Canada.

It added 250 conductors in the last quarter of 2017 and another 400 should be at work by the end of March. An additional 375 will come on between April and June.

CN vice-president Janet Drysdale told the Canadian Federation of Agriculture meeting last week that the company had leased 130 locomotives, but some needed repairs before they could be put to work.

CN has taken the brunt of grain shippers’ criticism for its service compared to that of Canadian Pacific Railway.

CP also issued a statement Wednesday saying it has 550 new staff and 100 additional locomotives it will begin to integrate into its fleet beginning this month.

CP operates a Dedicated Train Program, and the company said it has 15 percent more subscribers this year.

“DTP cycle times were on target and generally things along CP’s network were moving well prior to February,” the company said.

The railway said it experienced unprecedented cold recently, which it described as 60 percent colder with 78 percent more days below -25 C.

It also cited “unprecedented and unexpected demand being driven from dual rail-served territories in the north catchment areas of our network.”

Meanwhile, the House of Commons standing agriculture committee will hold an emergency meeting this afternoon to discuss the grain backlog.


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