Grain transportation mostly smooth in January

CN hopper car demand up, while CP car demand down from previous year

Grain movement has been relatively smooth for much of January, according to the latest numbers from the Ag Transport Coalition.

Canadian National (CN) has supplied over 90 per cent of hopper cars order between January 8th and 21st, according the Coalition’s reports for grain weeks 24 and 25. Canadian Pacific (CP) filled 73 per cent of orders in week 24, the Coalition reports. In week 25, CP picked up the pace, supplying 87 per cent of hopper orders.

Hopper car demand is up this year for CN, with weekly orders averaging 4,483. Last year the demand averaged 4,377 cars per week for CN, the Coalition reports.

CP’s hopper car demand, on the other hand, is on average 179 fewer cars each week than last year, according to the Coalition. CP’s weekly report notes that grain shipments are down six per cent compared to the same time last year.

Quorum’s Grain Monitoring Program reports that space in country elevators is good. Country elevators were at 73 per cent working capacity in week 25. Western port terminal capacity rose from 59 per cent to 65 per cent from week 24 to week 25.

Both railways noted several challenges over the two-week period. Dry canola dust has plugged unloading equipment in Prince Rupert, CN notes. The plug was still slowing unloads right into week 26. Car cycles were up to 14 days in the Prince Rupert corridor, compared to 11 in early December. CN’s latest report notes “ongoing communication” with the terminal has helped them manage the problem. CN also reports the terminal will be moving away “from this particularly dry commodity, which will improve their unloading ability.”

Meanwhile, Thunder Bay has slowed down, as the main seaway has closed, CP reports. In week 26, a barge hit a bridge in the Lower Mainland, which slowed traffic in and out of the Port of Vancouver. CP also noted a derailment in B.C. caused a 24-hour outage in mid-January. As well, “a partner foreign railway” had “significant outages” for two weeks in January, slowing grain movement, CP reports.

CP and its customers have made some operational changes in Vancouver, which have yielded improvements in pulling and spotting of traffic, CP notes.

West Coast ports unloaded 15 per cent more cars in week 25 compared to the same week last year, Quorum reports. So far this year, the West Coast has unloaded two per cent fewer cars and one per cent less grain than the first 25 weeks last year. This slight drop comes from Prince Rupert, as Vancouver’s numbers are similar to last year. However, both ports are well above the five-year average, Quorum reports.

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The Ag Transport Coalition comprises several groups, including Alberta Wheat Commission, Canadian Canola Growers Association, Canadian Oilseed Processors Association, Inland Terminal Association of Canada, Manitoba Pulse Growers Association, Pulse Canada, and Western Grain Elevator Association. The Coalition’s reports cover 90 per cent of grain movement originating in Western Canada.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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