Lesson no. 1: Don’t believe the Press Releases!

If the pronouncements of Canada’s two major railways are any indication, both outfits are nimble, well-equipped and able to deliver the goods. Quickly.

Each press release seems to outdo the one before in describing the powerful new locomotives they’re  buying, the new track they’re laying down, or the upgrades they’re making to bridges, freight yards and signal systems.

So, it comes as a shock to hear that CN Rail and Canadian Pacific were recently clogged with grain shipments — so much so that Canada’s reputation as a reliable exporter is now on the line, while the country’s grain growers may be facing a cash crunch.

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A CN Rail grain train at Morinville, Alta.

Indeed, Canada’s Ag Transport Coalition says that during the week of Feb. 12, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific  together provided only 38 per cent of the rail cars ordered by grain shippers. More precisely, CP Rail  delivered 66 per cent of its orders; CN Rail,  just 17 per cent.

To clear the backlog, Canadian National is urging some of its workers to postpone retirement, while enticing some of its retired employees to come back to work!

It’s also deploying qualified managers to run extra trains, as well as adding crews in western Canada. Moreover, to boost its hauling capacity, CN Rail has leased 130 diesel locomotives.

Meanwhile, two Canadian cabinet ministers — Marc Garneau (transportation) and Lawrence MacAulay (agriculture) — have called the railways’ performance disappointing.

Canadian National’s sluggishness has already claimed one victim:  its CEO, Luc Jobin. Mr. Jobin abruptly resigned March 5, amid a statement from CN’s board of directors that the railway needed a leader who could “realize CN’s corporate vision,” as well as take the company forward.

 

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On to the Bay . . . Well, not So Fast!

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SUPPLIED A motorcyclist and adventure seeker from Colorado, rode a dirt bike along the bay line from Thompson to Churchill. Reached on Tuesday near Split Lake on the return trip to Thompson, Green said that when he began his expedition, he was already aware that rail service has been suspended because of flood damage. So, as he made his way up the line, he took photos. The photographs he produced – time stamped on June 14 and obtained by the Free Press – reveal a situation much different than the one described by Omnitrax.

Canada’s Prairie farmers can be excused if they’re shedding a few tears. The railway link across  northern Manitoba, one of Canada’s Western provinces, to the tiny port of Churchill (pop. 900) on Hudson Bay has been sliced and diced by recent floods. The damage reportedly is so extensive that the operator, Omnitrax Canada, says the line may be out of service for months.

The outage is particular poignant for the farmers. Not only did they agitate for years for the line to be built, but they saw it as a way of freeing themselves from the high cost of shipping their grain to the Lake Superior port of Thunder Bay, Ont., Canada’s main outlet for Prairie wheat. And even though the line to Churchill has never lived up to its promise, it was, for Western Canadians, still their very own line.

But Omitrax may be exaggerating the seriousness of the washouts. A Winnipeg Free Press story on June 20 (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/photos-from-the-ground-tell-different-story-about-hudson-bay-railway-conditions-429783063.htmlsuggests that because flood waters have receded, getting the line back on track may take less time than the company originally said it would.

Not only does Omitrax want to unload the line, but it has been trying to do so for more than a year to a consortium of First Nations.

“A deal in principle has been reached,” the Free Press reports.  “But the First Nations have stated publicly they need support from the federal and provincial governments to complete the purchase.”