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Hold off on closing producer-car loading sites, says APAS president

Government needs to "get off the pot" and do a full rail costing review

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) is asking for a time-out on Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway’s planned closure of 10 producer-car loading sites.

“It’s great to have legislation (saying) that we can get producer cars, but if there’s nowhere to drop them off, it’s not going to help anybody,” says Todd Lewis, president of APAS.

With new legislation and reciprocal penalties coming in, the grain shipping industry is in a time of transition, Lewis says. APAS doesn’t want to see any more infrastructure lost right now, he says. The producer group has asked Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau for a moratorium on producer car loading sites until railway costs have been reviewed. APAS is also asking for an extension of the 60-day notice before CP closes the 10 sidings.

“If they discontinue service there, it’s not going to save farmers a nickel,” says Lewis, because under the Maximum Revenue Entitlement, railways are still compensated for those closed sidings.

Lewis also questions whether CP has spent much money servicing these sidings. “If they’re not getting used, they’re not servicing them, either,” he adds.

James Nolan, professor of ag resources and economics at the University of Saskatchewan, agrees that CP should hold off on closing more sidings until the new bill is in place, and all parties have had a chance to use it. Nolan adds that “that the government needs to get off the proverbial pot” and do a full rail costing review.

CP says it’s about safety

CP spokesperson Jeremy Berry says switches are a source of risk, as they “have moveable components and require mechanical fastenings to join the components to the main track structure.”

“Removing a producer car site that is not being used is necessary to keep communities where we operate and our employees safe by removing a track switch, which can increase the risk of an incident,” says Berry.

In some cases, CP doesn’t own the adjacent land, and so the sidings are inaccessible, Berry says. In other cases, CP doesn’t own the infrastructure itself, he adds.

There are other shipping locations within 20 km of the sites CP plans to close, Berry says. Most of the sidings on the closure list haven’t been used in years, he adds.

The typical siding on the closure list was once beside a grain elevator that is now gone, Lewis says. Lewis farms south of Regina, about 15 miles from the Wilcox siding, which is one of the sites slated for closure.

Lewis says he hasn’t used that siding, as producer car service has been too unpredictable. The 2013/2014 shipping year scared off many producer car shippers, he adds.

But he views the planned closures as lost opportunities in an evolving grain market. For example, Lewis spoke to a smaller grain company interested in shipping soybeans in Lewis’ area with producer cars.

Producer cars are also a “good balance to the basis rates” with the elevator companies, says Lewis. “If it gets too far out of whack, you can save thousands of dollars if you go the producer car route.”

Berry says CP has placed ads announcing the planned closures in local papers. The sites won’t be discontinued for at least 60 days following those notifications, he says.

“CP remains firmly committed to delivering outstanding service to our grain customers, which is our largest line of business,” says Berry.

APAS notes the following sidings could be closed by mid-September:

  • Tompkins – RM of Gull Lake
  • Midale – RM of Cymri
  • Cupar – RM of Cupar
  • Markinch – RM of Cupar
  • Grand Coulee – RM of Lumsden
  • Wilcox – RM of Bratt’s Lake
  • Moosomin – RM of Moosomin
  • Tisdale – RM of Connaught/Tisdale
  • Qu’Appelle – RM of South Qu’Appelle
  • Duval – RM of Last Mountain Valley

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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