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Rail News: Canadian National Railway - CN

CN targets 11-day car cycling for grain shippers


In 1999, grain traveling from Canada’s prairies to ports in Vancouver, British Columbia, and back again took 21 days. The same trip today is 18-and-a-half days. But Canadian National Railway Co. President and Chief Executive Office Paul Tellier believes that’s still not good enough.
"No commodity can remain competitive on world markets with that kind of turnaround time," Tellier said April 10 in a speech to the Canadian Grains Council. "My goal is to be able to make that trip in 11 days."
CN runs 100-car Supertrains of corn or soy beans from Illinois and Iowa to New Orleans for export and back again in six days. And, in a pilot program last year, CN cycled a 100-car shuttle train from high-throughput elevators to Vancouver and back in seven days.
Such a cycle would reduce inventory and storage costs, he said, and require fewer grain cars. A 10-day cycle-time improvement would represent a significant reduction in CN’s fleet. Car ownership, and operating and replacement costs would be reflected in reduced rates.
But CN can’t offer 11-day turnaround on a regular basis by itself, Tellier stressed. High-throughput elevators are a solid foundation, he said, but export terminals also must improve their efficiency. Increased use of short lines also would help; Tellier called on provincial governments to consider how their policies and incentives could support a successful short line industry on the prairies.
What the industry doesn’t need, he said, was regulatory intervention, referring to and criticizing forced access applications of OmniTRAX Inc. and Ferrequus Rail Co. to Canadian Transportation Agency.
"If implemented, these would reverse the gains that have been made in nearly a decade of deregulation," he said. "What farmers need, however, is a system that greets the future. They need a system that anticipates that global markets will only get more competitive."