Railways falling behind on hopper car orders, according to Ag Transport Coalition data

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The percentage of hopper cars ordered by grain elevators in Western Canada that are not showing up on time has started to climb rapidly, according to the latest data from the Ag Transportation Coalition.

CP Rail only supplied 61 per cent of the hopper cars that were ordered in week 8 of the grain year, compared with 79 per cent the prior week and 99 per cent at the same time a year ago, according to the ATC’s weekly report published October 3. The report says CP cancelled 1,043 orders for hopper cars destined to Vancouver and Thunder Bay in week 8 alone.

CN Rail, meanwhile, filled 83 per cent of hopper cars orders in week 8, down from 88 per cent the prior week.

While the ATC report doesn’t delve into details or explanations for why CP in particular has faltered, it shows hopper car demand has also climbed substantially.

The weekly data shows grain elevators ordered 7,153 cars from CP in week 8, a 27 per cent increase from the previous week and a 43 per cent increase versus the same week in 2021, when grain volumes were lower due to the severe drought across the Prairies. CN received orders for 5,104 cars in week 8, which the ATC also reports is the highest shipper demand CN has seen since December 2020.

While it’s still early in the shipping season, with harvest still underway in many areas, grain companies and other members of the Ag Transportation Coalition have raised concerns about the railways’ preparedness for moving the 2022 crop, coming off of the 2021 crop year when there was reduced shipper demand due to the drought.

CN Rail, in its federally-mandated grain plan released in late July, acknowledged the likelihood of capacity constraints moving the larger crop to the West Coast, and said it was expecting to increase rail shipments east to port facilities in Thunder Bay and along the St. Lawrence River.

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