PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — One of CN Rail’s vice presidents says that his company has nearly cleared the backlog of grain from B.C. after a more severe winter than usual contributed to long service delays for the railway’s customers across the country.
CN’s Executive Vice-President of Corporate Services Sean Finn was in Prince George on Wednesday touring his company’s operations in the community, which handles both north-south and east-west traffic. Finn explained that the company had seen 18 months of declining freight volumes, leading the company to lay off staff and park locomotives.
In 2017, while the company forecast an average increase of three percent in freight volumes over the year, freight volumes had increased between 10 and 20 percent in the first four months of the year. Finn said that while the company began a hiring spree of 1,000 employees and ordered 200 new locomotives last year, it requires months both to train new conductors and build locomotives.
“We entered the winter time with more challenges,” said Finn. “Our trains are shorter so you need more trains to move the same amount of product. More locomotives and more crews. By the time we realized we’re into January, February we just didn’t deliver at the level we should have been. When its winter time we have set a target that the supply chain should allow us to spot 4,000 cars per week during the tough months of winter – January, February – to grain elevators in Western Canada. Once winter breaks, our target becomes 5,000 cars. We’ve done the last six weeks now almost 5,500 cars per week. When I say we’ve caught up, it is that the volume is moving. There might be issues at the port, there might be issues at the odd grain elevator, but when it comes to cars being spotted at elevators so farmers can deliver their grain and we can move it to market we’re already caught up quite a bit.”
Finn added that there have also been several other factors outside of CN’s control that contributed to the shortage of empty freight cars for its customers over the winter.
“The problem is, we load the cars but ultimately our customers decide what terminal it goes to. Some terminals are not necessarily as efficient as others and don’t operate seven days a week. You can load grain cars but if you move them to Vancouver and they sit there without being unloaded. CN have done its job to deliver, but we’re still waiting for those cars to cycle back to the elevators. Those cars are sitting one or two days not being unloaded, that takes two days out of their cycle time.”
Finn said that CN will working on better communicating with its supply chain partners in order to try and alleviate the possibility of another freight backlog occurring in future years.