CN strike affects shipments of vehicles, grain

The strike at CN Rail can't end soon enough for Winnipeg car dealers, who say shipments of new vehicles have virtually stopped.

The strike at CN Rail can't end soon enough for Winnipeg car dealers, who say shipments of new vehicles have virtually stopped.

The labour disruption, which began Feb. 10, has resulted in fewer cars being shipped to dealers, and that means lengthy delays for car buyers.

Jared Beyko, general sales manager of Jim Gauthier Pontiac in Winnipeg, says a handful of his customers are waiting for cars to arrive directly from the factory.

"One person ordered a Pontiac Grand Prix back in December, and the car was due to be here first, second week of February, and of course now their car is sitting on a train somewhere, can't be shipped to them," he said.

Beyko said his dealership usually receives one or two truckloads of cars per day, but "right now it's down to a trickle," with only one load per week arriving.

"I believe it's lined up in the rail yards of CN themselves," he said.

Beyko said he has enough vehicles on his lot to sustain him for a month and a half.

He doesn't know how long it would take his shipping company to make up the backlog once the labour dispute ends.

Grain companies call for review

Meanwhile, the association that represents grain companies in Western Canada hopes the strike will prompt a government review of rail practices.

Wade Sabkowich, spokesman for the Western Grain Elevator Association, told CBC there were problems with rail service in Canada long before the strike.

Sabkowich said grain companies would struggle to get enough rail cars delivered to elevators in time to meet their demand, a situation that has only grown worse during the 13 days of the labour disruption.

"We think that the railway service needs to be reviewed in its entirety in the very near future," he said, adding that his organization has been calling for such a review for years.

"Our complaints with the rail— with CN in particular, but with the railway service in general— pre-dated the strike.We've been asking for a level-of-service review. What we've been finding is that the railways will ration demand significantly."

Sabkowich said in the short term, the Western Grain Elevator Association needs the strike to come to an end before grain companies run into serious costs with delayed shipments.

"Vessel demurrage is costing the industry hundreds of thousands of dollars a day," he said. "We will start to see, if we haven't already, contract extension penalties.We are probably looking at contract defaults."

The federal labour minister plans to table back-to-work legislation before the end of the week.