Daily Trains Inbound to Port of Vancouver Westbound direction, both CN and CPKC, January 1 to January 21

RailState, the rail industry’s only provider of real-time rail network visibility, independently tracks all freight rail movements across Canada. 

Over the past 10 days, much of Canada and the Northern US has experienced extreme cold temperatures that have wreaked havoc on transportation across North America.

With nearly a week of frigid temperatures that were 20-30 degrees lower than average, many areas throughout the region hit historic record lows. Keg River, in northern Alberta, had the dubious distinction of hitting a record low temperature of -50.1C on January 13, only to break that record on January 14 with a teeth-chattering low of -51.5C. Edmonton hit lows of -50F/-45C, Calgary -30F/-35C, Saskatoon -40F/-40C, Kamloops -17F/-27C, and even Vancouver saw significantly lower temps of 5F/-15C.

The widespread arctic blast puts unique pressures on the rail network. Extreme cold potentially endangers workers, stresses equipment, and makes air brakes ineffective for typically-sized trains. 

“It’s common to see a couple extreme cold snaps in these regions every year but this one was colder, covered a much larger area, and lasted a few days longer than what we’re used to,” said John Schmitter, Chief Commercial Officer at RailState. “The problems compound with extreme cold, so the impact on rail traffic is significant and still being felt. Shippers should still expect delays and explore their options to ensure they can continue to move product.”

Port of Vancouver

Train volume into the Port of Vancouver fell sharply starting on January 13 and remains well below the average volume seen from October through December 2023. 

Last week, the average daily train volume into the Port of Vancouver was 71.5% of the average daily train volume seen in the last three months of 2023. That means there were nearly 5.5 fewer trains per day headed westbound to the Port of Vancouver.

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 86.6%
  • January 8-14: 95.6% 
  • January 15-21: 71.5% 



Daily Trains Inbound to Port of Vancouver Westbound direction, both CN and CPKC, January 1 to January 21

The volume of trains per day has started to increase, but daily volume has yet to match the longer term average.

Daily Trains Inbound to Port of Vancouver Westbound direction, both CN and CPKC, October 1 to January 21

In addition to the lower train volume, the extreme cold led to shorter trains, which amplified the level of disruption to the overall flow of goods and materials. The railroads look to -25C as a marker for shortening trains to allow for safe movements. 

At the start of the year, the average train size was greater than the long-term average size. Over the past week average lengths were 80 cars per train, 74.1% of the long term average. 

With the lower train volume and shorter trains, the average daily volume of carloads is down to nearly half the longer term average. 

Weekly Carload Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 93.5%
  • January 8-14: 82.3% 
  • January 15-21: 53.1%
Daily Carloads Inbound to Port of Vancouver Westbound direction, both CN and CPKC, October 1 to January 21

Port of Prince Rupert

Volumes headed to the Port of Prince Rupert are also starting to rebound. Train volumes ticked above the longer-term average for a few days last week.

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 112% 
  • January 8-14: 86.8%
  • January 15-21: 80.6%
Daily Trains Inbound to Port of Prince Rupert Westbound direction, both CN and CPKC, January 1 to January 21

Edmonton

Train volumes out of Edmonton are recovering quickly after a sharper drop in movements.

On CPKC, westbound from Edmonton, train volume was halved in the second week of January. Closing out last week, daily volume westbound was well over the long-term average. Grain unit trains and petroleum unit trains have seen the strongest rebound. 

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 99.5%
  • January 8-14: 53.4% 
  • January 15-21: 95.2%
Daily Trains from Edmonton Westbound direction, CPKC, January 1 to January 21

On CN, volumes have also bounced back up after dropping to a near standstill. Driven by increases in intermodal train volumes, average daily volume now matches the volume seen in the week before the arctic blast.

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 90.2%
  • January 8-14: 66.8% 
  • January 15-21: 90.2%
Daily Trains from Edmonton Westbound direction, CN, January 1 to January 21

It’s a similar situation with eastbound volumes out of Edmonton.

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 91.8%
  • January 8-14: 80.6% 
  • January 15-21: 89.0%
Daily Trains from Edmonton Eastbound direction, CN, January 1 to January 21

Border Crossings into U.S. 

The blanket of cold offered no respite to the south and extended well down into the United States.

An average of 10 trains per day crossed into Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota at the end of last year. On the coldest days of this cold stretch (Jan. 13/14), these border crossings only saw one train each day. 

Weekly Train Volume as % of the Oct-Dec Average Volume:

  • January 1-7: 90.4%
  • January 8-14: 59.8%
  • January 15-21: 84.3%
Daily Trains Cross Border into United States Southbound direction, both CN and CPKC, January 1 to January 21

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