Amid all the pandemic-related challenges in agriculture, grain movement has been a bright spot heading into the 2020 growing season.

Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) says it moved more than 6.35 million metric tonnes (MMT) of grain during the first three months of 2020, surpassing its previous first-quarter record, set in 2016, by 300 thousand tonnes.

CP says it saw its best-ever January, moving around 2.09 MMT of grain, as well as record performance in March, transporting 2.5 MMT of grain. The company’s grain movement in February — when blockades affected parts of the rail system — came in at 1.76 MMT.

“Whether it’s our employees operating the trains that bring railcars to the elevators, the teams that plan our train movements, or those who maintain our tracks and infrastructure, everyone is making sure assets are turned safely and efficiently,” says Joan Hardy, CP’s vice-president of sales and marketing grain and fertilizers.

As of the end of March, CP says it has moved 18.53 MMT for the 2019-20 crop year — a six per cent improvement over last year.

The update from CP echoes a report from CN Rail earlier this month. CN also said it set a new record for grain movement in March, moving 2.65 MMT.

Some of CP’s improved shipping numbers are due to the purchase of new hopper cars, says the railway.

The company has added 2,500 out of a planned 5,900 new cars to its fleet. CP says the new cars can carry 10 per cent more volume and 15 per cent more weight than the cars they’re replacing.

CP says the shift to 8,500-foot “High Efficiency Product” trains is also boosting capacity, noting 14 elevators on CP’s rail lines are currently capable of loading the longer trains, with 14 more projects underway. By the end of 2020, CP says more than 30 per cent of CP-serviced unit train loaders will be “qualified” to load 8,500-foot trains, which can carry 40-percent more grain than previous 7,000-foot trains when combined with the new hopper cars.

Hardy says the railway has also been busy moving fertilizer into position for seeding season.

“We’re committed to delivering for our customers and farmers as seeding activities ramp up across western Canada,” she says. “With significant volumes of fertilizer and potash shipped in 2020 to date, our customers are well-positioned for application as part of the spring planting processes. I wish farmers a successful and prosperous season.”

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