CN Rail continues to move grain at record setting pace

David Przednowek, Winnipeg.

Aberdeen, Saskatchewan, CN Locomotive with hopper cars, on the bridge

Harry Siemens – David Przednowek, Director of Marketing – Grain at CN this March after hearing about the record-setting grain movement throughout this winter, he outlines the movement. Cn Rail moving more grain

Canadian National‏ Railway invested in new high-horsepower locomotives in 2016 that pull heavier and longer trains which benefit the entire grain and supply chain.

On April 11, 2017, in a statement on Twitter, the company said it shipped 486,000 tonnes of grain from Western Canada the previous week with zero backlogs.

In a follow-up interview to one in December 2016 with David Przednowek, Director of Marketing – Grain at CN this March after hearing about the record-setting grain movement throughout this winter, he outlines the movement.

“You know after a bit of a slower start in the fall time, August into early September when we had a bit of a late harvest to start there,” said Przednowek. “Of course there were a lot of challenges through the fall and there’s still a lot of crop out there, unfortunately, especially in the west. But since then, once demand picked up in September, we’ve set record volumes for grain movement on CN ever since and that’s including right through the winter.”

He said historically speaking, averaging 4,000 cars a week in terms of spotting cars in the country and delivering cars to a destination was a good number.

“This year we’ve had weeks in excess of 5,000 cars moving record shipments of grain out of Western Canada. Every month from September, right through February and it looks like we’re gonna have a record March as well,” said  Przednowek.

In December 2016, the CN grain marketer said CN had put the whole aspect of grain first and it shows. He said then and again in April this railroad wants to move grain and it involves everybody in the supply chain making improvements, whether it’s terminal infrastructure, destination, and improving loading assets in the country.

“More and more we’re seeing a bigger percentage of shipments in unit train and a heavier emphasis on a port, so those shorter cycle trips mean that overall we can get the equipment back to destination or back to origin a lot faster,” said Przednowek. “We’ve seen a change in the mix over time. It’s meant less long hauling and more movement, more emphasis by the grain companies on the movement to port, and all those things that meant being able to come up with a bigger spotting program. Our operations team has done an excellent job through the winter, even with a couple of bad storms of course.”

He said a few times the company had to put their winter operating plan into effect and run shorter trains but thank goodness those were only very short lived and quickly bounced right back and it’s really good news for everybody in the supply chain.

The CN grain marketer said marketing and selling grain becomes vital when everyone steps up to the plate so to speak to improve the entire system and create more grain movement.

“Yeah, absolutely. I know there are some challenges this year with quality. Certainly, the poor weather in the fall meant a lower quality grade profile, especially for some commodities like, certainly a lot of old crop off grade lentils still out there, a lot of lower grade durum,” he said. “We had some pretty bad quality, particularly out west this year. So that’s meant some challenges. And it’s meant that certainly through the fall time and into the winter, we didn’t see as strong a wheat movement; and we saw other commodities come to the fore.”

Przednowek said a great example soybeans with farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan looking to plant 2,000,000 acres in Western Canada this year.

“We’ve seen strong soybean movement right through. Of course, that’s tailing off now with the South American crop coming to the fore and moving the market but where some commodities have been slower, we’ve had stronger movement in others and net overall, we’re moving these strong volumes of grain,” he said. “We got Thunder Bay all cleaned up now as well, so that’s gonna mean a bump year at the opening of shipping for grain shipments east and yeah, it’s all positive news.”

Things get even better more long term. With G3 Grain’s construction of an export grain terminal – G3 Terminal Vancouver – at Lynnterm West Gate in the City of North Vancouver, at the Port of Vancouver, underway, this too will speed up the system.

“That’s gonna be a real game changer in this business because today, we have a lot of elevators out in Western Canada with loop track infrastructure which means more efficient rolling operations but with the exception of Mobil-Exxon Thunder Bay, not being a direct hit operation. We don’t have any significant loop track infrastructure at a destination,” said Przednowek. “And this facility once it comes online, in a couple of years time is gonna have three loops, they’re gonna be able to accept unit trains and that’s gonna mean quicker cycling of assets through a port. Because today, most facilities, they’re set up with a number of ladder tracks where you have to break the train into a number of pieces to deliver to the facility. They can all dump pretty fast but all I’m saying is that with loop infrastructure destination, you’re gonna have more efficient assets and the quicker you can dump cars, the quicker you can get those cars back into the country to load. So it’s a win-win all round.”