Local short lines thrown off track by grain backlog

By Nigel Maxwell
March 19, 2018 - 2:00pm

Two short line railways in northeast Saskatchewan have felt the pinch from the country's grain backlog according to Ian Boxall, vice president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS).

On Monday, Boxall told a House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food the rail lines have had very poor and inconsistent supply of cars this shipping year.

Wayne Bacon is Chair of Northern Lights Rail, which runs from Melfort to Birch Hills. He said operations ran smoothly from September to the first week in January. Then the issues started.

'We started not getting the numbers of cars we were ordering," he said. "For basically the last four train runs we've only had 15 cars."

Bacon said they were previously getting an average of 25 to 30 cars a week. 

Adding to the issue, Bacon said, is the fact some of the cars have been loaded but haven't yet been moved due to the backlog. Bacon noted producers do not get paid until their product has been received by the end user.

"I know we've got one of [the cars] sitting on our tracks right now that’s been sitting there for over a month and, even it did get moved right away, it would be two or three weeks before [the producer] got their cheque," he said.

Bacon said producers typically want to get their cars in by the end of February so they can pay their bills in March. If they cannot pay those bills on time, he said they end up paying a lot of interest.

"Some producers do get a little upset with us because they want their money, and their frustrations get taken out on someone. I know it's not personal and I'm a farmer, so I understand what they are going through," he said.

Bill C-49, the transportation bill, is currently tied up in the Senate, and there has been no timeline given for when it may get passed. Some farm groups like APAS have pushed for at least the grain transportation side of the bill to get passed sooner to assist farmers. 

Bacon said CN laid off numerous employees in 2016, and noted training replacements may be partially responsible for the backlog.

"The training process is not simply hiring a guy and putting him on a locomotive," Bacon said.

Torch River Rail, which runs from Nipawin to Choiceland, relies on Canadian Pacific Railway for its cars. Chair Ron Shymanski said their operation is roughly two to three weeks behind schedule.



On Twitter: @nigelmaxwel

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