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Alberta Wheat and Barley part of rail advocacy group

Alberta Wheat and Barley part of rail advocacy group

About 20 entities make up the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Alberta’s agriculture sector is represented in a new organization advocating for reliable, equitable railcar service.

The Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions are part of the membership of the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA).

The CRAA’s membership currently sits at 20.

This includes municipal and county governments, and other industry groups like the Alberta Forest Products Association and the Northern Transportation Advisory Bureau.

In total, the membership represents about 300,000 Albertans and 1,500 businesses.

“The organization represents a broad cross section of groups that have concerns about the level of service that’s provided by the two major railways,” Tom Steve, general manager of Alberta Wheat and Barley, told Farms.com.

The concerns range in nature.

In the Peace River region, for example, CN is the only rail carrier available. And winter weather can cause delays.

“The railways aren’t as resilient as we’d like when it comes to bad weather,” Steve said. “We rely on rail to get grain to port and if it doesn’t move in a timely fashion it puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Rail transportation in ag has been an issue for Canadian farmers for years.

In March 2018, for example, CN issued an apology after only supplying 17 per cent of ordered hopper cars and failing to fulfill 3,419 orders on time.

And in March 2022, CP locked out its employees for three days following failed contract negotiations.

But being involved with an organization like the CRAA allows for a broader take on rail service, Steve said.

“Local governments are ultimately responsible for the economic health of their regions,” Steve said. “When rail service isn’t meeting a certain standard, it has an impact on the local economy. Industries that don’t get reliable rail service, well that money isn’t flowing into the communities and it has a snowball effect.”

One area of improvement the CRAA has identified is transparency.

Organization members are sometimes left in the dark about a lack of rail cars.

“It’s not always evident why cars don’t show up,” Steve said. “Because the railways operate in a duopoly situation, there’s no effective competitive forces to ensure the customer is getting the service they need.”

Investment into infrastructure is also important for railway success.

This will take a bilateral approach, Steve said.

“We’d be looking for the railway companies and the federal government to recognize that we need strong infrastructure or we’re not going to be competitive in international markets,” Steve said. “Alberta is landlocked and we need our goods to arrive at export positions in a timely fashion.”


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