Sask. pulse growers slam declines in rail service

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers is the latest group in the province's agriculture industry to call out delays and disruptions in railway service they say preventing growers from getting their crops to the market.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says rail service as of late has been disappointing

Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said timely rail service is critical for grain transportation, and noted legislation that could introduce reciprocal penalties on railways has taken too long to be implemented. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Saskatchewan Pulse Growers is speaking out about frustrations with railway service and calling for action on Bill C-49. 

The group, which represents Prairie growers, says delays and disruptions are preventing producers from getting their crops to market.  

Hopper cars ordered by grain shippers aren't arriving on time, if at all, according to SPG and the rail performance reports issued by Ag Transport Coalition (ATC).

"There's been significant declines in the level of rail service for shippers and for farmers over the past few weeks in particular," said Carl Potts, executive director of Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. "That impacts Canadian competitiveness and Canadian farmers in a very significant way." 

"If we can't get grain moved from Western Canadian elevators to port," Potts added, "[we] miss being able to get on boats and ultimately to customers."

Farmer Todd Lewis on how the shortage of rail cars is impacting his business 5:28
 On Thursday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale pointed to federal legislation that's currently in the process of being developed to address grain transportation issues raised by several agriculture groups on the Prairies. 

Bill C-49, the Transportation Modernization Act, has been in the Senate since December.

Goodale said the bill will "assist in levelling up the playing field between the railways and their customers."

However, he noted the political process of passing the legislation has taken too long, despite the fact that it was proposed by federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau months ago. 

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said "demand is no greater than last year at the ports and still the railways are having trouble keeping up." (Google)

"That service, high quality service, delivery on time, is fundamental to a successfully functioning economy and the railways need to make sure that they deliver," Goodale said. 

​SPG wants the legislation tweaked while the Senate has it. The group has also suggested the bill be amended to equip the Canadian Transportation Agency with "own-motion power," saying this would let the agency investigate rail service issues and railway actions without first hearing a complaint from the shipper.

This would "allow the agency to take action when system performance issues like we're facing right now with grain transport come up," Potts said. 

Minister questions delays

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said the rail service as of late has been disappointing. 

"They will cite cold weather as a factor, and I'm sure it is a factor... It slows things down, but it's not a particularly large crop that we're dealing with this year," Stewart said.

"Demand is no greater than last year at the ports and still the railways are having trouble keeping up," he added.

Stewart said he plans to meet with the rail companies next week.