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Railways unveil plans to clear grain backlog in Western Canada

Railways unveil plans to clear grain backlog in Western Canada

CN and CP plan to invest heavily in grain service improvements

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter

Canada’s national railways have released their plans to help relieve the grain backlog in Western Canada.

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau and Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Lawrence MacAulay mandated on Mar. 9 that Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railways publish their plans online by Wednesday.

Specifically, Garneau and MacAulay wanted immediate actions to relieve the congestion and longer-term steps to maintain fluid service in Western Canada.

In terms of immediate steps, CN promised to spot (meaning precisely position a railroad car for loading or unloading) 5,000 grain cars by the end of month.

The railway has also leased 125 new locomotives as of Mar. 17. Its goal is to lease 130.

Other measures include “deploying qualified company officers across Western Canada to run trains and move customer traffic,” and offering employees incentives to delay retirement or postpone vacations to help move grain.

Looking ahead, CN plans to spend more than $250 million on infrastructure and yard improvements.

The railway will build five stretches of double track in eastern Alberta and Saskatchewan and a new long section of double track west of Edmonton on the railway’s mainline corridor to B.C. New yard capacities in Edmonton and Manitoba are also part of the improvement plan.

CN also plans for additional passing sidings between Prince Rupert B.C., and Jasper, Alta.

Part of CP’s immediate plan to move more grain includes putting more cars on tracks.

The railway “placed 10 per cent more empty rail cars in the country in Week 32 compared to the week prior, a further sign of incremental gains achieved,” Keith Creel, CP’s president and CEO, wrote in CP’s plan.

CP can transport more grain when the Port of Thunder Bay re-opens near the end of March, he added.

In terms of improving service in the future, CP has added 700 new employees and plans to acquire 100 additional locomotives.

CP has also budgeted for improvements.

“We have earmarked between $1.35 and $1.5 billion for capital improvements this year,” the plan says.

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