The Federal Government’s Grain Transportation Roundtable on Wednesday in Saskatoon brought together railways, grain companies, and farm organizations.

In the last few years, farmers have seen a real issue with getting the crop to market especially through the winter.

The Federal Government in consultation with the grain sector revised legislation and developed Bill C-49 in an effort to see things run smoother.

Both railways’ laid out their strategies for moving grain this winter.

CN Rail's CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest (rue-est) believes capital purchases like new locomotives, hopper cars, and additional employees will make a difference for CN this winter when it comes to grain transportation.

“Cars are being built in Hamilton they’ll be delivered in winter time, locomotives being built in Texas they’ve been being delivered since the month of June. We’ve been hiring people since last fall, take six months to train them, we have more and more qualified conductors. This year we are investing $400 million dollars of track and double-siding in Western Canada so we can put more trains on the grid.  All of these things take time, but we will have a lot of these resources entering the next winter, the coming winter."

CP sent out a release following the meeting saying it will move the crop in close collaboration with its customers and the broader supply chain.  The railway says it has a target of spotting 55-hundred hopper cars per week until the Port of Thunder Bay closes for the winter; after that, they plan to target about 4000 cars per week.

Under Bill C-49 reciprocal penalties are in place for poor railway performance that leads to grain backlogs, like we had last winter.

The President of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, Todd Lewis says both railways need to be ready this winter.

“We heard about opportunities in new markets with the Australian crop failure. There might be opportunities for Canada, and we have to be light on our feet as far as transportation and getting the crop to where it’s needed at the right time. Hopefully, we are headed that way.”

Kevin Hursh the Executive Director of the Inland Terminal Association of Canada was part of the discussion and says the railways are trying to improve communication.

 “They realize there is a powerful organized lobby with reasonable ideas. I think it is the dawning of a really interesting time with Bill C-49 coming to fruition.”

Hursh notes that because of the drought conditions in the southern half of the Province,  CN will have more grain to move this crop year than CP. 

Overall Transport Minister Marc Garneau says he’s looking for ''resiliency' in the system.

 “Particularly when we face things that we can’t totally predict ahead of time.  I mean if we could predict the weather ahead of time in the winter; if we could predict the market price for grain and how big harvests would be, we would have less of a challenge. What we want to make sure is in place is as reliable as possible railway transportation system to get their grain to market.”

The hour and a half Grain Transportation Roundtable discussion in Saskatoon coincided with the Federal Liberals caucus retreat.

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