Farmers, grain companies and processors agree changes need to be made to a rail transportation system that has produced poor results in two of the past five years.
Bill C-49 covers all areas of rail and air transportation, including grain movement. The amended version from the Senate is now back in Parliament.
The federal government supports the Senate amendments for grain transportation, but it’s not known if other areas in Bill C-49 could affect passage through the House and Senate before the summer break.
While the legislation is not perfect, grain companies say it includes measures such as level of service contracts and improved interswitching.
“We need to lock these changes in place otherwise we could get paralyzed in the pursuit of perfection,” says Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevators Association. “We feel this is good enough to lock into place and then time will tell. We will get experience with the bill and have a better understanding of what is working and not working. We will then begin the process of trying to make improvements.”
Sobkowich says it will take about five or six months before a service contract with a railway can implemented, once the amended Bill C-49 has passed through the Senate.
“This has been something that we have been waiting for 30 years (to get) a revised Transportation Act,” says Jeff Nielsen, president of the Grain Growers of Canada. “I don’t think we are worried (that it won’t pass), it’s just that we see there is a timeline ahead and it needs to be done so it can be implemented for the start of the crop year.”
Nielsen says farmers lost money due to poor service, especially those in northern areas or on branchlines that had a difficult time getting hopper cars from the railways over the winter.
Canola and soybean processors also lost money due to poor rail service.
Chris Vervaet, executive director of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association (COPA), says a larger facility in Western Canada can process 3,000 tonnes of canola day.
“If that facility is down for a day, and that has happened this year and in 2013-14 as well, that amounts to about $2 million a day in lost production.”
Poor rail service results in quantifiable losses such as demurrage, as well as unquantifiable losses like damage to Canada’s reputation as a reliable grain supplier.
That reputation could take another hit if a strike by 3000 CP Rail engineers and conductors occurs. The Teamster union is recommending that its members reject the company’s last offer.
A vote will be held from May 14th to the 23rd.
A strike was avoided at the last minute on April 21st when the federal minister of labour called for a vote on CP’s contract offer.