Both of Canada’s major railways say they moved a record amount of grain during the 2020-21 crop year, which wrapped up on July 31.

CN Rail says it moved just over 31 million metric tonnes of Canadian grain and grain products in hopper cars, exceeding its previous record of 29.4 million tonnes set in the 2019-20 crop year. CN says it also transported more than 1.1 million tonnes of Western Canadian grain in containers in 2020-21.

“CN’s grain movement has been resilient during the pandemic, achieving 14 straight months of Canadian grain volume shipment records,” noted CN president and CEO JJ Ruest, on Tuesday.

CP Rail reports shipping 30.62 million tonnes in hopper cars over the 2020-21 crop year, exceeding last year’s record of 29.52 million tonnes. It also marks the fourth consecutive year CP has set a new annual movement record. CP moved another 1.6 million tonnes of grain in containers.

Both railways moved grain at a strong pace through much of the fall and winter, before demand slowed down in spring. While CP ended up moving 3.7 per cent more grain than the previous year, there was a point in March when the railway was nearly 15 per cent ahead of the previous record pace.

“CP’s team of exceptional railroaders, dedicated to providing our customers with service excellence, and the strong execution by our customers and terminal operators, has enabled the supply chain to move more grain than ever before,” said Joan Hardy, CP’s vice-president of sales and marketing for grain and fertilizers. “The challenge created by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 17 months has underpinned the value of strong communication and supply chain collaboration. Despite a sharp reduction in demand this spring, CP and our customers have again broken our movement record, and we celebrate that achievement across the supply chain.”

CP said the record was a testament to its 8,500-foot high efficiency product (HEP) train model, as the longer trains, when using new high capacity hopper cars, can carry 40 per cent more grain than a traditional 7,000-foot train. CP says 13 elevators became qualified for HEP trains in 2020-21, bringing the total to 25 elevators on CP’s network.

Both railways have also added several thousand new high capacity hopper cars to their fleets over the last four years.

Looking ahead, the railways submitted their 2021-22 grain movement plans to the federal government with the start of the new crop year on August 1.

Due to the drought, CN says it’s expecting to move between 25.5 and 28 million tonnes of grain in 2021-22, while CP says it’s still preparing to handle more than 30 million tonnes.

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