RealAg LIVE! with Mark Hemmes on rail movement and port performance


The vast majority of Canadian grain has to move to port before being exported, and overwhelmingly the majority of crop that heads west is moved by rail. Keeping tabs on how this complex, integrated logistics system works is Mark Hemmes, with Quorum Corp, Canada’s grain transportation monitor.

For this episode of RealAg LIVE!, host Kelvin Heppner is joined by Hemmes to talk about railway performance, container movement, port congestion, and how the weather and COVID-19 has helped and hindered grain movement for 2020/21.

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  • Started in 1999, since 2001, Quorum Corp has served as Canada’s grain monitor
  • Track grain supply chain from the farm gate, to elevators, to vessel at port, and every step in between
  • Where does that info come from?
  • 48 different monitoring streams to keep tabs
  • Fairly robust, and they verify nearly all the data supplied
  • Are railways really doing a great job?
  • Blockades lifted about this time last year
  • COVID-19 freed up plenty of space for grain, and caught up from 2020 winter
  • Could they have achieved this without COVID-19? Well, they’ve now set a benchmark
  • We did see some hiccups
  • 2020/21 so far has been mild. With the exception of the last three weeks, it’s been such a mild winter
  • What’s the impact of oil movement by rail?
  • Less than you might think
  • Container traffic and intermodal is also competing for track space
  • Bill C-49: More investment was the goal. Do we know where we’re at in the process of railcar fleet renewal?
  • New cars are shorter but carry more, that contributes to efficiency
  • It’ll be another three to four years to phase out the older cars
  • Comparing tonnage moved vs. cars spotted — perhaps not apples to apples comparison
  • Cars asked vs cars spotted, means they aren’t meeting demand
  • Year-over-year comparisons are tough, after how hard last year was, and how easy this year was
  • Do elevators get special or priority treatment? Loop tracks are more beneficial for sure
  • Do longer trains make port unload more complicated? Getting it to the terminals is a challenge
  • Some don’t even fit into the rail yard in some places
  • 9,000-foot train has to be split into three and is pieced out to terminals
  • How are the ports doing?
  • What about going east? Container movement is strained.
  • Port of Montreal, much of it goes by laker, the boats begin moving mid-April, roughly
  • So let’s hope the labour issue at Port of Montreal is resolved by then
  • Container movement — autumn saw a huge pullback in supply of empty containers. And needed to move them to Japan, China, Indonesia. Caused congestion at ports and shortage of supply.
  • Slowly starting to correct itself, could be current by May/June

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