Churchill ready for potential record season


CNS Canada — Manitoba’s northern Port of Churchill is gearing up for a record grain shipping season, but will need to receive more grain cars in order to meet those goals, according to the port owner’s president.

The shipping season at Churchill, Canada’s only northern deep-water port, typically runs from July to October, with this year’s opening date set for July 15.

“We’re expecting a very positive season,” said Merv Tweed, president of OmniTrax Canada, the U.S.-owned rail firm that has owned the port, and the rail line leading to it, since 1997.

“We’ve had lots of requests for new orders of shipping so our biggest challenge that we are working to rectify is making sure we get enough grain cars to move the product.”

In 2013 the port moved 640,000 tonnes of grain, its highest amount in the past five or six years, Tweed said. This year the goal is 700,000 tonnes, but Tweed predicted the final tally will be even higher.

“Based on what’s out there in the fields and in storage, if we can get the grain cars, I think we can get very close to a million metric tonnes,” he said.

In order to move that grain, they’re going to need a much larger number of grain cars, he said. “We’re negotiating. We’re on a (Canadian National Railway) line interchange, so we rely on them to deliver cars to us.”

“People are noticing”

CN, which connects to OmniTrax’s Hudson Bay Railway at The Pas, Man., is “under a lot of pressure right now to alleviate some of the problems on the East and West Coasts,” Tweed said.

“Last year we did just a tick under 7,000 cars, so we’re hoping to do 8,000 to 8,500 cars this year. If we can get an allocation of cars, then that puts us close to the one million mark.”

Churchill, he added, can help CN “to alleviate some of the glut of grain that’s on the market, and our challenge is to convince them that they should supply us with the extra cars that we need.”

Piqued international interest in the Port of Churchill, and the completion of upgrades to the port’s loading facility last year, have created an even bigger need for grain cars, he said.

“We’re getting calls this year, I think because of the surpluses, from pretty much all over Europe and parts of Africa,” said Tweed. “So it’s pretty exciting to think that people are noticing who we are and what we’re capable of doing. Now our challenge is just to make sure we can get the product up there.”

With the work at the loading facility now complete, “we can now basically load a vessel twice as fast as we could three years ago,” he said. “So it enhances our ability to go after the market a little stronger in the fact that we can deliver.”

There is already an abundance of grain at the port waiting to be shipped, Tweed added.

“We’re actually moving grain up there now… and getting ready to load vessels as they come in,” he said. “As soon as the weather breaks and as soon as the ice breaks, we’ll start shipping.”

— Marney Blunt writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.


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