Train backlog leaves $500M in Canadian grain waiting at farms
Published Thursday, April 5, 2018 10:58PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 6, 2018 9:43AM EDT
At the moment, Curtis McRae has $120,000 of grain sitting in a massive metal container on his farm. But, thanks to a service backlog by Canada’s biggest railway, he has no idea when it will be brought to market.
As Canadian farmers prepare for their 2018 harvests, many are still trying to offload last year’s crops. About 28,000 carloads of grain – equivalent to $500 million – are waiting to be transported via rail.
“We’re starting to see some price hits because it’s hard to move because nobody wants it right now,” McCrae told CTV News.
The company first apologized for the backlog last month, just two days after it dumped its president and CEO. It has since offered incentives to employees and recently-retired workers to help get the grain moving.
CN Rail says that weather, machinery and resources have led to a slowdown in services.
CN spokesperson Kate Fenske admitted that the company has “not met expectations this year.”
“We understand that. We’re sorry for that. Really what we’re trying to do now is catch up on the backlog and focus on moving forward of how we move Canada’s crop to market.”
The frustrating situation has some farmers calling for solutions. Legislation before the Senate could slap tough financial penalties on railways over delays.
Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAuley said the federal government intends to address the issue.
“There is problem. We know that. And we are going to deal with it,” MacAuley said.
But some advocates are asking for more assurances so that farmers’ crops don’t end up sitting around for months – potentially putting them at risk of spoiling.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler called for a complete change in the way business is done.
“We have to react to make sure we live up to our commitments to getting those products to market,” Eichler said.
In a letter to the editor being sent to western newspapers, Conservative transport critic Kelly Block and agriculture critic Luc Berthold say that farmers and rail shippers have "bore the cost of the Liberal's mismanagement of the rail sector."
They are calling on Transport Minister Marc Garneau to accept amendments coming from the Senate to Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act. The Conservative critics say these changes, some of which they first proposed in the House but were shot down, are "needed" to address rail backlog issues.
CN said it has invested more than $250 million into building new track and yard capacity in Western Canada and has leased 130 new locomotives to boost capacity.
With files from CTV’s Manitoba Bureau Chief Jill Macyshon and The Canadian Press