On Tuesday, CN Rail's Executive Vice President was in Edmonton talking with farm groups.

Sean Finn says, he wanted to come to Alberta to apologize for the grain backlog in person.

"In March we did apologize to our grain customers, farmers in Western Canada, and a lot of our customers for not having provided a service at the level they expect and are used to having from CN. We let them down."

Finn says, one of the main questions he was asked at the meeting was how did this grain backlog happen?

"We had gone through prior to 2017, we had six quarters or 18 months of a reduction in volumes, and we entered 2017 with a forecast of a volume increase of about 3 per cent. Very quickly within the first couple months of 2017, we realized we had an increase in volumes of certain commodities between 11 and 20 per cent. By the time we got to the point we realized it was sustainable, it was September, and we said we're short crews, we're short locomotives, and there are pinch points in our network that impacts capacity."

He says, to train a conductor takes eight months, and new locomotives take about about a year to build.

Finn says, they leased 130 high power locomotives to move grain last fall, by they still fell behind in the winter months.

Some farmers have made the comment that grain backlogs always seem to come when there's something more profitable to ship, but Finn says that's not the case.

"We don't make that trade off. What we look at is how do we move the system to keep it very fluid. Secondly, we have commitments to ourselves to move a certain amount of grain per week, so we don't look at the profitability of grain versus other business. Crude is often viewed as being a problem for us moving grain."

He says, crude oil is only one per cent of CN Rail's overall volume, so it's not a large portion of their business.

In the immediate term, Finn says, the company will hire 1000 employees.

"We're going to hire probably another 800 employees between now and the end of June, so that will help us long term. Secondly, when it comes to locomotives they will be coming on, so we will make sure those are kept in a position to serve our customers, and we will invest $250 million more capital in the Winnipeg to Edmonton corridor to make sure we have for example, a double track coming into the yard in Edmonton."

He says, CN Rail will make sure they have excess locomotives for the next grain season, and also more employees available to help with more difficult winters or a large grain crop.

Finn says, grain car order fulfillment is currently around 70 per cent.

 

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