CN trains rolling again after B.C. tracks repaired amid mounting backlogs

December 6, 2021
CN trains rolling again after B.C. tracks repaired amid mounting backlogs
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Amid growing backlogs, Canadian National Railway Co. says trains are moving again in southern British Columbia after the third atmospheric river in two weeks descended on the region.

CN says service resumed Sunday after crews worked around the clock on the Vancouver-Kamloops corridor, which was first cut by mudslides and washouts amid torrential rain in mid-November.

The country’s largest railroad operator restored limited activity along the vital supply link late last month before opting to close the line again a week ago as more downpours triggered further flooding, landslides and debris.

“CN crews will continue to monitor both the rail infrastructure as well as the terrain over the coming days and weeks,” CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said in an email.

An aerial view of the Port of Vancouver taken Nov. 21. After service was suspended due to weather-related track damage, freight is now moving by rail again in and out of the city’s port. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

The restored connection will allow freight to flow to and from the Port of Vancouver and begin to clear the massive backlogs of incoming shipping containers and outgoing grain.

The repaired lines will also allow Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, which shares tracks with CN through part of the Fraser Valley, to boost its shipments.

End of year is a critical time for shipment of grain — canola in particular — with the bulk of Canadian grain transported via rail to B.C. ports.

Some can be diverted to Prince Rupert, B.C., the United States or Thunder Bay, Ont., but the window for the latter is nearly closed as winter ice looms, while rail cargo generally is hard to divert en masse.

“Regardless of when the traffic on the mainlines resume handling normal levels of traffic, the reverberations back through the grain supply chain in Western Canada (and all commodities) will be measured in months,” Steve Pratte, policy manager at the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said in an email.

Grain strain

The backlog of Prairie grain may lose much of its value if trains can’t ship it to port before spring, when prices typically drop amid heightened global supply, according to the Western Grain Elevator Association.

Contract extension penalties and demurrage fees — issued by a shipping line when freight exceeds the time allotted at a terminal — also present a threat for farmers and grain elevators trying to clear out brimming barns and silos.

The number of grain cars unloaded at West Coast ports dropped by 83 per cent year over year in the third week of November, according to the federal grain monitoring program’s latest update.

As of Nov. 28, there were 24 grain vessels at berth or at anchor around the Port of Vancouver waiting for deliveries of up to 1.4 million tonnes of grain — mainly wheat, canola and barley — the update states.

“These shipments are critical to ensure that Canadian farms get the cash flow required to cover the operating costs accumulated through the season, and it is a race against winter every year to try to get as much grain to port before winter conditions settle in,” Geoff Backman, markets manager at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, said in a statement.



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