CN train
Photo courtesy of CN.
MONTREAL, CANADA — CN Rail on May 2 said it has met all grain orders in Western Canada for the third straight week, is current to demand and is seeking additional export orders from grain companies.
Doug MacDonald VP of Bulk at CN
Doug MacDonald, vice-president of bulk at CN

“The decisive action we took in March to deploy more crews and locomotives has led to dramatic improvements in the movement of Western Canadian grain,” said Doug MacDonald, vice-president of bulk at CN. “We’ve met all of our car orders for the last three weeks and spotted more than 5,500 cars every week since early March. Sustained sequential improvement across our network in the last two months is enabling us to solicit more orders from grain companies.”

A severe shortage of rail cars this winter and early spring left millions of tonnes of in-demand grain trapped across Western Canada, costing farmers millions of dollars.

Both CP and CN — Canada’s two largest rail companies — received harsh criticism for the backlog of grain and are taking steps to make sure the problem doesn’t repeat itself in the coming years.

In April, CP announced plans to improve its reliability and movement of Canadian grain with significant capital investment in new rail cars, replacement of old equipment and network changes that include an 8,500-foot loop system at grain elevators.

CN has vowed to take similar measures.

In February, CN said it averaged 4,129 cars a week. Since then, CN’s spotted numbers have increased sequentially to average more than 6,100 cars per week in April.

Weekly demand for this week (April 29 to May 5) is below 5,000 cars and CN said it is temporarily parking roughly 1,200 hopper cars. Those cars will be available for any increase in orders moving forward. Removing excess rail car fleet from the network will improve fluidity for all markets, CN said.

As part of CN’s record C$3.4 billion capital program in 2018, the company is investing in new trade-enabling infrastructure and equipment. In addition to 350 new box cars and 350 new lumber rail cars ordered for this year, CN said it expects in June to take delivery of the first of 60 new GE locomotives due in service in 2018.

This spring, CN has started its largest-ever infrastructure investment program, which includes C$400 million to build new track and yard capacity to handle increased traffic across CN’s Western Region, and to Chicago. The infrastructure program includes new siding and double track projects benefiting grain, forest products, intermodal, coal and potash business.

After adding hundreds of train conductors to the field so far this year, CN continues to hire with a particular focus on crews in Western Canada. Approximately 1,250 more qualified train conductors will be in the field before the next winter, compared to the number of conductors available before last winter, the company said.