Railways to blame for terminal shortages, WGEA says

Grain handlers take issue with MarketsFarm report

MarketsFarm — The association representing the Prairies’ main grain handling companies says recent delays in loading vessels have less to do with the availability of grain and more to do with the railways hauling it to port.

The Western Grain Elevator Association (WGEA), which represents major handlers such as Viterra, Richardson, Cargill and others, raised the issue of recent railway performance following a recent MarketsFarm article on the matter.

That article asserted the most pressing issue for the grain terminals at the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert was a shortage of grain to load onto vessels — despite Canadian National and Canadian Pacific Railways (CN, CP) moving record amounts of grain to the West Coast. The situation was further intensified due to the cold snap last month across the Prairies.

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The reason for the shortages at Vancouver and Prince Rupert is the fault of the railways, according to WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich.

“The article suggests that part of the problem with rail movement is insufficiency of grain deliveries, but this is not accurate from a grain company perspective,” he said via email.

“While producers might not have been hauling as much grain during a cold streak, elevators had and continue to have plenty of grain in store to move but needed railcars. The issue is that inadequate rail service is what is causing delays at West Coast ports.

“The article also suggests that with the exception of the cold two weeks, the railways have performed exceptionally well, which is not how [the WGEA] would characterize it. The railways may have moved greater volumes of grain than in previous years, but they have not performed exceptionally well. Comparing this year to last is not an appropriate measurement because service in the same period last year was very poor.”

Citing data in the Grain Monitor, produced and published weekly by Quorum Corp., Sobkowich said that terminal storage has increased 11.2 per cent over the last five years and country storage by 13.9 per cent — plus system throughout was up 16.5 per cent and the annual grain supply rose 14.2 per cent.

During that time, Sobkowich said, the railways increased their average active fleet by 2.5 per cent, with loads per car up 3.1 per cent, the car cycle rising 19 per cent and the net change in locomotives was up 11 per cent for CN and down three per cent for CP.

CN and CP, he said, have both failed to meet market demands and have not delivered consistently nor have they adjusted their capacity to meet growth.

Asked for comment, the spokespersons for the Ports of Vancouver and Prince Rupert declined or referred to the weekly Grain Monitor reports. Furthermore, the two railways didn’t offer any comments upon request, and CP referred to rail movement data on the company’s website.

— Glen Hallick reports for MarketsFarm from Winnipeg.

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