CN said it spotted 4,456 hopper cars for loading at country grain elevators in Western Canada during the grain-crop Week 33 just ended. This marked the third week in a row that CN has delivered more than 4,000 grain cars to Prairie elevators, averaging 4,366 cars per week, or 23 per cent greater than CN’s average winter car-spotting performance.

Claude Mongeau, CN president and chief executive officer, said: “We began ramping up our grain loadings as soon as we got a meaningful break from this harsh winter’s extreme cold temperatures. We are pleased to see our network regaining fluidity. That enables our team of dedicated railroaders to move more grain to address the backlog of traffic resulting from the 100-year crop harvested last fall.”

Mongeau said tackling the significant backlog will require solid end-to-end collaboration among all grain supply chain stakeholders.

With rail volumes quickly increasing, however, CN is concerned that grain elevator terminals on Canada’s West Coast could soon hit capacity, limiting total export volumes before the Great Lakes shipping lane re-opens and a strong export grain program can start at the Port of Thunder Bay, Ont.

“The Great Lakes have been frozen over by this winter’s polar vortex to a degree not seen in several decades,” said Mongeau. “We need urgent support from the Canadian Coast Guard to open navigation channels if we are to meet the federal government’s Order in Council requiring CN to move 500,000 tonnes, or close to 5,500 cars of grain per week.”

Mongeau added: “Railways are not the only ones facing a significant challenge in moving this 100-year grain crop. It is becoming clear that other supply chain participants - grain elevator companies, shipping lines and ports—are also straining to handle the harvest given a full 50 per cent increase in the amount of grain to move to export markets.

“As I have said before, blaming railways alone - or even worse, threatening to punish them with re-regulation for an outsized crop and winter conditions beyond their control - will not help to move any more grain, now or over the longer term.

“Canada urgently needs to move away from unproductive finger-pointing. We need to encourage supply chain collaboration and promote sound commercial solutions to address the challenge of moving so much grain. As a key part of the solution, CN is prepared to do its part if it is welcomed as a core member of Canada’s grain team.”