RailState Rail Capacity Report September 20-26, 2022

With a larger grain harvest expected this year, our customers and others are concerned about rail capacity at the Port of Vancouver. Last year’s harvest saw ample service disruptions and delays, due to fires, flooding, and other issues. There were also capacity issues caused by insufficient train crews, and operating disruptions that affected all commodities.

This week, The Financial Post published an article describing railway grain customers’ concerns about sufficient capacity to move the required grain harvest, while maintaining movement of other commodities. Although CP claims they show “no preference to coal or, for that matter, any specific commodity,” our data routinely indicates strong coal and intermodal movements, and comparatively weaker grain movements. This week, however, rail disruptions interrupted all commodity movements.

RailState Rail Capacity Report September 26, 2022

Observations for Week 9/20-9/26/2022

  • For most of 2022, the railways’ train volumes have been below the amount required to move the current grain harvest.
  • At the end of this past week (9/20-9/26/2022), the 7-day moving average number of trains moving westbound past Chilliwack was 27.0 trains/day, significantly above the average of 25.7 trains/day that is required to move a typical grain harvest.
  • However, for 5 out of the 7 days of this past week, the moving average number of trains/day was below 25.7 trains/day. The primary reason for this was that a sinkhole shut down CN’s line into the North Shore area of Vancouver on the evening of Monday 9/19, and service was not restored on that line until the afternoon of Wednesday 9/21.

We estimate about 5 grain trains/day are required to move the expected grain harvest. For the past week, the railways moved 7.3 trains/day. However, the railways also moved fewer coal trains. This past week, the volume of coal trains was 2.9 trains/day, vs. an average of 5 trains/day. Did the railways prioritize grain over coal this past week, or were there just fewer shipments of coal? We’re hearing that the turn-times on empty coal cars have increased by 2 days. Was that the reason less coal was shipped last week? We will continue to monitor the Grain Harvest in Canada on a weekly basis, and provide updates on trends we’re seeing.

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