CN Rail says it is ready to implement its winter plan to keep grain moving

Those in the railway business are already starting to prepare for the winter months that lie ahead. As snowstorms hit parts of the Prairies in the last few weeks. some have wondered if that would put a strain on the movement of grain.

David Przednowek, director of sales and marketing for CN Rail, says these past couple of weeks have had an impact on the supply chain just like it has for those in the field. With that in mind, he says there’s the winter plan in place to address two main challenges.

“It outlines the challenges that CN faces operating in Canadian winters, and more importantly it sets out the actions that we’ve implemented to maintain operations through the winter at a level that’s acceptable to the needs of all of our customers,” Przednowek says. “While at the same time, ensuring that we’re operating in a safe and efficient manner.”

RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney points out the snow has already delayed getting the crop off, and wonders if this could potentially mean another grain backlog this winter. Przednowek says with all that’s been done leading up to the earlier-than-normal snowstorms, they should be in good shape going into the winter months. (Story continues below player)

“As of last Sunday, we had moved just under five million tonnes of grain and processed grain products out of Western Canada and, not surprisingly, with the way the harvest weather has been overall, maybe 60 per cent of the crop (is) done as of the middle of last week,” he says adding it was turning out to be the slowest pace of shipments in the past five years.

“You take a look at the Grain Commission statistics it shows a slow pace of deliveries through the first week of October. It was (around) 8.3 million tonnes of grain delivered into the primary elevator system. The past three year average was 9.7 (to) 9.8 million and that reflects the fact that we had a (late) harvest.”

He compares agriculture and railroading as an outdoor sport in that weather has a major impact on both, and it can be stressful at times.

As for specifics within its winter plan, he notes a few include:

  • The use of distributed power and braking cars to increase train lengths and mitigate the impact of extreme cold temps;
  • Investing in technology to increase productivity and safety, such as automated car inspection portals;
  • Having a more efficient and modern mainline road locomotive fleet; and,
  • Investing in capacity to meet growing demand.

Overall, safety of the rail crew and the load is what slows down, or completely stops, the shipment. When temperatures drop to minus 25, that’s when the tier restrictions come into play with smaller loads, shorter trains in order to maintain proper air pressure when it comes to the braking system. Only at minus 40 or greater (which has happened in the past) is when CN would fully stop operations in that section of the network, however, it is quite rare.

To read the full breakdown of CN’s winter plan, click here.

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