Getting grain to port at a faster and more efficient clip will be the focus of a meeting in Saskatoon involving the federal government, farm leaders and executives from Canada’s two biggest railways.
Officials from the grain and rail transportation sectors will be at Wednesday’s roundtable discussion, hosted by federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Lawrence MacAulay, federal minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
Grain transportation was a critical issue for farmers last winter when producers said shipping delays and backlogs following what had been in many cases an excellent harvest were resulting in huge financial losses for them.
Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways have previously announced plans for improved grain movement, but Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association director Daryl Fransoo says the time for talk is over and it’s results that now count.
Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, says the railways have calculated that 4,000 grain cars a week will be enough to handle the demand, although he notes that farmers hope to see even bigger numbers.
The roundtable meeting coincides with this week’s federal Liberal caucus meeting in Saskatoon.
“It’s to the point where we’ve heard enough,” said Fransoo, who farms in the Glaslyn area, about 200 km northwest of Saskatoon.
“They (the railways) just have to move our grain in a timely fashion … They can talk about their cars, their locomotives and the people they’ve hired but the proof is in the pudding.”
The federal government passed the Transportation Modernization Act in May to make railways accountable for poor service. It includes financial penalties for failure to deliver promised rail cars for grain shipments on time.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. said in June that it expects to have more than 500 new high-capacity grain hopper cars in service before the end of 2018.
The Calgary-based company placed an initial order for 1,000 cars from Hamilton-based National Steel Car and expected to order a total of about 5,900 of the grain hoppers over the next four years.
It also said that it plans to invest more than half a billion dollars as part of its commitment to the North American agricultural sector.
Rival Canadian National Railway Co. announced a similar order of 1,000 hopper cars in May, also from National Steel Car.
Both companies said their orders were facilitated by federal government changes that encourage railways to make investments to avert service disruptions.