Slimmer harvest yields faster deliveries from railways


CNS Canada –– A year ago, Western Canada’s shortline railways were struggling to meet commitments, but this year’s smaller grain production has reduced the stress on rail transporters.

“There’s no shortage of cars, and there’s no problems in shipping,” said Sheldon Affleck, president of Regina-based shortline Big Sky Rail.

A year ago, rail companies struggled to meet commitments, grain car orders were behind and elevators were full. “Everybody wanted to sell at the same time. Now what we’ve got is more of an average crop,” Affleck said.

Last year’s wheat production hit 29 million tonnes, according to Statistics Canada; this year’s production is estimated at 26.1 million.

Farmers have also been reluctant to sell this year due to low prices, Affleck said. “Plus there is some product out there that is poor quality and not marketable.”

Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) has been steady in its deliveries to shortline transporter Great Western Railway, delivering 100 per cent of car order supplies, according to Andrew Glastetter, general manager at Shaunavon, Sask.-based GWR.

“A large part of that is we’re doing a softer crop year than last year,” he said — but communication with the rail carrier has also improved this year, he added.

“We’ve had a big focus on our railway of working closely with CP to find out the things that we can do to make sure that we’re kind of more user-friendly for them as well.”

GWR has been turning cars around on the line as fast as possible, he said, and encouraging customers to do the same with loading.

“We’ve cut down on how many outstanding orders there are, and we’ve had a big focus on efficiency.”

The data on car deliveries to shortlines is not readily available, but the recent AG Transport Coalition report shows CP and Canadian National Railway (CN) have significantly improved the timeliness of their deliveries from last year.

For the grain year so far, 89 per cent of hopper car orders have been delivered by CN and CP for the wanted week, which compares with the previous year when CN and CP supplied 62 per cent and 36 per cent of cars ordered by shippers in the week in which they were ordered, according to coalition data.

A shortfall in the supply of railway cars and deteriorating service were named as the primary cause of delays in that year.

Jade Markus writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting. Follow her at @jade_markus on Twitter.

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