Grain car fleet requiring more maintenance

Nearly 3,400 of the 8,406 federally owned cars in service are scheduled to be retired in 10 to 20 years

The amount of maintenance needed to keep Canada’s aging fleet of grain hopper cars in service is increasing.

According to a recently released federal report, the number of hopper cars requiring repair rose dramatically between December 2014 and December 2015.

In December 2015, the number of so-called “bad order” cars requiring heavy maintenance was listed at more than 800, says the 2015 Government of Canada Hopper Car Report.

A year earlier, in December 2014, the number was less than 100.

Heavy maintenance cars are those that require more than 24 hours to repair.

“The railways (Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway) confirmed that the increase in bad order statistics was due to the age of the hopper car fleet,” said the report, prepared annually by Transport Canada.

The condition of Canada’s federal grain car fleet is an important issue to growers, shippers and railway companies in Canada.

Ottawa bought 13,500 hopper cars from 1972-94 to move prairie grain to export position.

By the end of 2015, the number of cars still in active service was listed at roughly 8,406, down marginally from a year earlier.

The life expectancy of hopper cars in the federal fleet is also a topic of interest to the western Canadian grain industry.

All of the active cars in the federal fleet have now been refurbished, and their active service life has been extended to 50 years from the date of purchase.

Nonetheless, bulk retirements are approaching, with 40 percent of the remaining fleet, or nearly 3,400 cars, due for retirement between 2026 and 2027.

According to the report, most of the 5,000 cars that are still in service after 2017 will be retired between 2032 and 2035.

By 2044, all existing government cars will be removed from service and the fleet will no longer exist.

In 2015, Transport Canada inspected a random sample of approximately 330 government-owned hopper cars.

According to the report, the inspections confirmed a bad order rate of 5.5 percent during the 2015 calendar year, more than double the rate reported in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

“Transport Canada will continue to monitor bad order cars to determine whether the finding this year is a one year anomaly or a new trend, due to age of the fleet,” the report said.

The annual Government of Canada Hopper Car Fleet Report provides details on the use of the federal hopper car fleet.

Among other things, the 2015 report summarizes:

  • monthly operating reports received from CN and CP
  • changes in fleet size, including retirements, destroyed cars and additions
  • refurbishments and maintenance inspections
  • information on revenues received from the railways

The full report can be viewed online at

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