Greater efficiency at Canada’s biggest port, Port Metro Vancouver, is crucial for improving the country’s grain transportation system, the head of Canadian National Railway Co said .

CN, Canada’s biggest railway, began last year a grain-loading schedule that it says has improved grain transportation, but greater collaboration among the grain industry, railways and ports is needed, said CEO Claude Mongeau.

“We have to have a fluid pipeline,” he told reporters after addressing a business audience in Winnipeg. “That means the loading movement, the unloading at the waterfront in Vancouver in particular has to be fluid and in balance, like a big pipeline.

“At the moment, the challenge is on the waterfront.”

Collaboration with Vancouver would include forward planning of shipments, some infrastructure work and balanced traffic in and out of the port, which is “a very congested gateway at the moment,” Mongeau said.

A port spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Port Vancouver handled record-setting volumes of grain and coal in 2010 and signed a service agreement with CN that it says has improved service at the port.

Farmers in Western Canada, where most of the country’s grain and canola crops grow, are highly dependent on CN and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd because there is no river freight system and distances are too vast to move grain to port by truck.

Canada is the world’s top exporter of spring wheat, durum, canola and oats.

CN’s new daily schedule for grain loading resulted last year in the railway spotting cars at the promised time 86 percent of the time, Mongeau said.

But he said the system of moving crops from country elevators to ports is strained by too many parts of the system already working at full capacity, hindering its flexibility.

CN’s fixed scheduling has been a big improvement, said an official with the Canadian Wheat Board, one of the world’s biggest grain marketers.

Along with promising when and where it will load grain, CN estimates transit times to port, said Mark Dyck, senior manager of rail logistics for the Wheat Board.

“I can actually project when exactly that car is going to arrive in Vancouver, which helps us order better (and) helps us plan our pipeline to a much greater level.”

Canadian Pacific started work toward a bulk grain scheduling system in the past year, said company spokeswoman Breanne Feigel.

This winter, heavy snowfall in the Canadian Rockies has caused avalanches on CP track, causing some problems exporting grain.

Logistical problems were part of the reason the Wheat Board did not offer to fill a regular Japanese wheat tender last month. (Reuters)