CTA rejects Canola Growers’ rail service complaint as vague

(Dave Bedard photo)

Canada’s transportation dispute resolution agency has tossed a complaint over rail service to Prairie grain handlers as too vague and lacking in “supporting facts.”

The complaint to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), filed in May by the Canadian Canola Growers Association (CCGA), was dismissed in an agency ruling released last week.

The dismissal “is a big blow to tens of thousands of western Canadian farmers,” CCGA CEO Rick White said in a release Thursday. “Many of these farmers experienced both short and long-term economic hardship resulting from the breakdown of rail service by both major railways during the 2013-14 shipping season.”

CCGA, an overarching body for five provincial canola grower associations, alleged in its complaint that starting in September last year, the number of railcars supplied by each of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways (CN, CP) to grain shippers began to fall short of what was required to handle grain traffic offered for carriage. [Related story]

By the end of November last year, CCGA alleged, there were over 20,000 “open” car orders placed in the current crop year that remained unfilled and that the railways “had no plan to fulfil.”

Both carriers, CCGA alleged, thus “entered the winter months with a substantial backlog of demand for rail service from the grain industry.”

As of Feb. 18, the railway companies were about 51,000 cars behind on outstanding orders, CCGA said, and as of April 1, the number was 65,000 cars.

The backlog, CCGA alleged, represented 5.9 million tonnes of grain that could have been shipped, and for which CN and CP haven’t supplied rail cars. Dwell times for loaded cars at elevators also increased, CCGA said, sometimes reaching as high as 20 days.

However, the CTA noted in its ruling Wednesday, CCGA “makes no distinction between CN and CP.”

“Not sufficient”

CCGA’s filing, the CTA ruled, “presents no material facts or evidence as to which car orders were not filled, or when or why the car orders were not filled or how CN’s or CP’s level-of-service obligations have been breached with respect to these car orders.”

The CTA’s decision also found CCGA “did not submit any material facts or evidence setting out whether all of the car orders were requested from CN or CP or some other railway” and didn’t submit “material facts or evidence relating to dwell times or its actual cause.”

CCGA, the CTA said, “fails to link the allegations in its complaint to specific railway company breaches in their level-of-service obligations, which constitute necessary material facts. It is not sufficient for a party to simply state its conviction that there has been a violation.”

CCGA said Thursday one of its “most pressing concerns” with the CTA’s decision is that “broader systemic problems with rail service will not be addressed.”

“While this decision is not what we had hoped for, CCGA will continue exploring further options after giving full consideration to the decision,” CCGA’s White said.

Other Prairie grain grower groups have been waiting on the CCGA complaint’s outcome. The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, for one, said in May a positive ruling from the CTA would have established the railways have an obligation to increase capacity to meet grain shipping demand.

A negative ruling, the Wheat Growers said, “would point to a need to strengthen transportation legislation to ensure the requirements of the grain sector are met.”

Commodities giant Louis Dreyfus said in April it would file a level-of-service complaint to the CTA against CN relating to the winter’s rail backlog.

CN serves six of Dreyfus’ 10 Prairie elevators plus its canola crushing plant at Yorkton, Sask. –– AGCanada.com Network


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