Overall, Canadian Pacific (CP) fulfilled 73 per cent of its hopper car orders the week of January 10 to 16, according to the Ag Transport Coalition’s latest report.
That number contrasts to Canadian National’s 95 per cent order fulfillment for the same week. The Ag Transport Coalition reports that CP also started the year out much stronger, before dipping the week of January 3. CN’s order fulfillment has been relatively high throughout the year, according to the report.
CP met 83 per cent of grain car orders in the Vancouver corridor, 96 per cent in Thunder Bay, and 72 per cent in other corridors the week of January 10. CN met 94 per cent or more of demand across the board for the same week.
So what do those numbers mean? It depends who you talk to.
Comments from the Ag Transport Coalition
Greg Northey is director of industry relations at Pulse Canada and is also part of the Ag Transport Coalition. The Ag Transport Coalition has only been measuring the railways’ performances for two years, so it’s hard to know what the norm is, he said.
“At this point in the grain year, in all corridors, CP’s performance on the timeliness of car delivery is better than last year,” Northey wrote via email. CN has also performed better than last year, he added.
Northey sees several potential factors, including lower demand from other shippers, operational improvements, and a milder winter. CP’s dedicated train program “seems to function very well,” Northey said.
He also noted that CP has “decent order fulfillment in bulk corridors,” but poor in other corridors, such as the U.S./Mexico and transload. He said that performance is similar to last year.
“Certainly, it indicates a similar pattern to what we have heard qualitatively from shippers for many years,” said Northey.
He speculated that CP’s decline, which started the week of January 3, could be related to weather or an internal decision to cut capacity. Any effect from CP’s layoffs would not have shown up until the following week, he noted.
Canadian Pacific’s response
I asked CP for a comment regarding CP’s apparent slip in performance, its dedicated train program, and whether there were other factors involved in its performance improvement from last year.
Jeremy Berry, CP spokesperson, emailed me a statement.
The Ag Transport Coalition reports on “cars ordered,” but CP doesn’t use orders for the majority of its grain movements, Berry wrote.
“The AG Transport Coalition continues to present information that is misleading and irreconcilable with our own data, which detracts from the goal of enhancing transparency. This does little to improve supply chain performance, collaboration and daily execution,” he said.
At press time, CP had moved 128,500 carloads of grain, which is 4.1 per cent greater than last year, Berry said. He added that is 19 per cent about their five-year average.
Berry said the dedicated train program has been well-received by grain customers, and accounts for 70 per cent of CP’s grain traffic.
The Ag Transport Coalition represents several agricultural associations, including Pulse Canada. It is funded through Growing Forward 2. You can sign up for the coalition’s weekly reports on grain movement at agtransportcoalition.com.