CN commits to higher weekly hopper car numbers in new crop year

After setting a new grain shipping record in the 2019-20 crop year, CN Rail is raising the bar on the number of grain cars it’s committing to move on a weekly basis in the new crop year, which begins August 1, 2020.

In CN’s federally-mandated grain shipping plan for 2020-2021 published this week, the railway says it is prepared to move up to 6,750 hopper cars of bulk grain per week outside of winter, and up to 5,250 cars of bulk grain per week in winter. That’s up from commitments of 5,650 cars per week outside winter and 4,150 during winter last year.

On top of those numbers, CN says it will move 850 hopper cars per week of processed grain products in 2019-20.

“Although we achieved our best grain movement volumes in 2019–2020, we are far from complacent,” says JJ Ruest, CN’s president and chief executive officer. “…we remain committed to continue making capacity-enhancing investments to our network and to upgrade our rolling stock, including the purchase of 1,500 additional railcars manufactured in North America in 2020-2021. With all those, we are on our way to reach continuously improved performances.”

Despite major interruptions on CN rail lines caused by protests this past winter, the railway says it moved over 28.2 million metric tonnes (MMT) of bulk and processed grain products from Western Canada in hopper cars, tank cars and boxcars in 2019–20, exceeding the record set the previous year by over 0.8 MMT. It was also higher than the 25.5 MMT to 27.5 MMT range of grain movement CN had projected in its 2019–20 grain plan.

In addition, CN moved over 1.1 MMT of grain from Western Canada via container, meaning the railway’s movement of grain from the prairies in 2019-20 totalled over 29 MMT.

“We continue to work with our customers and their industry associations to extract accurate and timely forecasts on volumes and industry patterns as this is essential to our resource and service planning processes,” says Ruest.

Much of that work involves CN’s Agricultural Advisory Council, which was formed a year ago to provide input for the railway’s annual grain and winter contingency plans, and serve as a voice on agricultural issues relevant to CN’s operations.

“Our input has improved CN’s understanding of the issues that matter to farmers and has helped to contribute to better service. The challenges faced this year demonstrated how essential transportation is and how having a collaborative and resilient supply chain can keep goods moving,” notes advisory council chair Alanna Koch.

CP Rail has not yet posted its 2020-21 grain plan online, but as of July 25, the other national railway said it was running 9.7 per cent ahead of the previous year’s grain-shipping volumes. For comparison sake, CP’s grain plan for 2019-2020 targeted 5,700 hopper cars each week outside of winter, and 4250 per week during the winter months in the 2019-20 crop year.

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