CTA: Vancouver rail congestion and farm products

VANCOUVER  — A preliminary report prepared by the Canada Transportation Agency confirms that freight embargoes were imposed on 15 different occasions in the Vancouver area late last year as railway companies struggled to keep commodities moving in an orderly fashion.

The Jan. 24 report, part of a larger CTA investigation into rail freight problems in the Vancouver area, says Canadian National Railway issued 12 embargoes in the final quarter of 2018 while Canadian Pacific Railway issued three.

Rail freight embargoes place restrictions on the movement of certain commodities.

They are used occasionally in the Vancouver area in an effort to manage traffic flows and ensure that commodities move efficiently and smoothly into the Port of Vancouver, the busiest marine port in Canada.

However, some commodity groups contend that embargoes are being used more frequently than ever, causing individual shippers to miss delivery targets, accrue demurrage charges or incur financial penalties for defaulting on the terms shipping contracts.

The preliminary report suggests that congestion problems at certain points in the Vancouver rail network resulted in freight embargoes affecting a variety of commodities, including agriculture and forestry products.

Embargoes issued by CN were aimed at reducing congestion in parts of the rail network that were experiencing reduced traffic flows, most notably at railyards and interchanges near the New Westminster Bridge, a known chokepoint in the Vancouver rail freight system.

Sources told the Western Producer that much of the congestion occurred in yards where traffic from CP and other rail carriers is interchanged to the CN network.

In a notice to shipping customers, CP indicated that  it issued a Dec. 12 embargo to support CN in its efforts to restore railcar movements in congested areas.

The CP embargo affected the movement of canola, canola meal, flaxseed and special crops, the CTA report said.

Operations at transloading facilities were also impacted as railways “attempted to proactively manage the traffic into this congested area.”

The CTA report suggested freight volumes in the Vancouver area have risen steadily over the past four years during the October to December shipping period.

During the three-month period, CN’s movements increased to nearly 292,000 carloads in 2018, up from 254,000 carloads in 2015.

CP’s traffic increased to more than 207,000 carloads in last three months of 2018, up from approximately 175,000 carloads during the last three months of 2015.

The CTA will continue its investigation this week with oral hearings from shippers, rail companies and commodity groups, Jan. 29 – 30 in Vancouver.

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