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Too many grain cars left out in the cold?

Ag Transport Coalition reports CP rail car performance drops

Walter Moebis came across a strange sight while visiting family near Rycroft, Alta., in mid-January.  A line of Canadian National (CN) hopper cars, which he estimated to be four to five miles long, sat on the tracks west of Rycroft.

Moebis’ father-in-law said the cars had been there a week or so earlier. When Walter went back Feb. 11, the cars were still there.

David Przednowek, director of grain marketing at CN, acknowledged that seeing cars parked in the middle of winter wasn’t expected.

“Having covered all the demand offered to us, we have had a significant number of cars in storage – very unusual,” Przednowek wrote via email. “Strong operating performance through the fall and winter has been very positive for grain movement on CN.”

Quorum’s latest report noted country stocks grew to 3.7 MMT in Grain Week 27, from 3.6 MMT the week before. Space in country elevators is still good, Quorum noted, as 80 per cent of country elevator capacity is in use.

Producer deliveries dropped slightly, from 1.1 MMT to 0.8 MMT, in Grain Week 27, Quorum reported.

Ships were queuing up at Vancouver. The line hit 28 ships in Grain Week 26, but has since declined slightly to 26, according to Quorum.  The current one-year average at Vancouver is 18 vessels, Quorum noted.

Prince Rupert’s vessel line grew to seven in Grain Week 26, before declining to six. The one-year average for Prince Rupert is four vessels.

CP performance drops, according to Ag Transport Coalition

It hasn’t been all smooth railing this winter. The latest report from the Ag Transport Coalition stated that Canadian Pacific (CP) supplied 57 per cent of ordered hopper cars in Grain Week 27, a substantial drop from the 70 per cent order fulfillment the previous week, and a low for this grain year.

CN’s order fulfillment dropped slightly, from 86 per cent to 83 per cent, over the same time period, according to the Ag Transport Coalition. CN’s performance has been steady through the year, varying from 81 per cent to 98 per cent fulfillment, according to the Coalition.

Jeremy Berry, CP spokesperson, noted that a derailment of a partner foreign railway in the lower mainland week slowed traffic in and out of the port in Week 27. Winter storms also slowed some terminals ability to ship to vessel, he added.

Berry also took issue with the way the Ag Transport Coalition uses empty order fulfillment data. Over 75 per cent of CP’s grain business uses the Dedicated Train Program, which is difficult to compare to an order fulfillment model, he wrote via email.

The best method to measure grain movement is by tonnage, Berry wrote.

CP’s totally grain tonnage shipped dropped from 448,315 tonnes in Grain Week 26 to 436,168 the next week, according to the railway’s weekly report.

By Grain Week 28, CP’s total grain shipped was 378,643 tonnes. Both CN and CP noted poor winter weather and avalanches affecting West Coast shipments in Grain Week 28.

More data on spotting car performance from CN

The Ag Transport Coalition’s report noted what percentage of hopper car orders are filled in the want week, and the second, third, and fourth week following. It puts outstanding orders for both railways at four per cent.

This grain year, CN has supplied 90 per cent of orders in the want week, and five per cent the week after, according to the Coalition. CP has supplied 77 per cent of orders in the want week, 15 per cent the next week, and four per cent two weeks later, according to the Coalition.

Perhaps in response, CN introduced new data on car spotting performance in its report for Grain Week 28. Going forward, CN will note how many planned orders that were missed the last week were filled in the reporting week.

“There is no accumulation of ‘unfilled orders’ as virtually all missed spots are spotted in the first several days of the following week,” CN’s report states.

In week 28, CN spotted all the planned orders it missed in Grain Week 27, according to its latest report. CN also intends to add the 785 missed cars from Week 28 to Week 29.

CN is also reporting how many orders it spots early. In Grain Week 27, it spotted 65 of Week 28’s orders early. CN also spotted 173 of Grain Week 29 orders a week early.

For more information on the reports cited:

Farmers, shippers, and others with comments or questions about shipping grain this year can contact Lisa at [email protected].

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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