Grain Transport running smoothly
Due to the recent economic slowdown, rail transport is experiencing a general decrease in demand to move some major goods such as oil products and automobiles. This has resulted in an excess of certain types of rail cars on the network creating the potential for congestion.
Railways are in the process of storing excess rail cars in order to keep as much space as possible open on the main rail lines and port areas. It remains to be seen if these actions will impact the rail movement of grain in the current week 34, which has seen improvement in Alberta over the last 5 weeks. The Agriculture Transport Coalition reported that for week 33, order fulfillment in Alberta for CN was at 93%, while CP reached 99%.
Movement of goods at the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert continues to operate as normal. Both ports have moved non- essential inside staff to work at home, and have implemented new protocols to limit potential for infection of staff. There are no anticipated work disruptions from the port or unions and it does not appear that border closures are impacting docking or crews. Operations are expected to continue as normal for bulk shipments. The economic slowdown has resulted in less containerized shipments arriving on the west coast than normal. To date, 33 sailings of container ships have been cancelled. This reduction in sailings is reducing the exports of containerized grains, mainly due to the lower availability of empty containers and less vessel space.
Higher than average port unloads are having a positive impact on reducing the west coast vessel lineup. The lineup has been reduced from the high of 54 ships to 38 ships in week 34. Of these ships, 30 are waiting for the Port of Vancouver and 8 are waiting for the Port of Prince Rupert. Vessel lineups are still above average levels for this time of year and will require that grain transport be better than average to keep enough grain flowing through the system to address the backlog. As the current grain stocks at port are decreasing to average levels, it is unlikely that the vessel lineup will continue to decrease toward the historical averages over the next week.
There have been no reports of COVID-19 related delays to grain deliveries by truck in Alberta. According to reports, country grain elevators remain essentially full as country elevator stocks are reported at 90% of capacity. Delays have been noted in Alberta regarding seasonal road bans coming into effect in the southern Alberta regions. While the provinces of both Manitoba and Quebec have provided COVID-19 related exemptions for grain to road bans, no similar exemption has been announced for the province of Alberta.
New COVID-19 protocols have been providing some delays for other industries. RCMP highway checkpoints have caused some delays in the movement of goods. During a recent government update, it was reported that a limited number of trucks have had issues entering Canada due to drivers being non-residents or showing symptoms of COVID-19. Transport Canada has opened a hotline for companies experiencing issues with truck border crossings; however, symptomatic drivers will still be turned away. To date, truck transport across the border is continuing with limited concerns.