Canada’s Class I railroads ship record grain volumes in April

A photograph of a train hauling railcars. There are city buildings in the distance.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to disrupt supply chain flows, the Canadian railways boasted record volumes of grain shipped in April.

Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) moved 2.73 million metric tonnes (mmt) in April, beating an April record of 2.72 mmt from 2019. The railway also moved 6.59 mmt in the first quarter of 2020, which the company said was its second-best first-quarter grain movement ever.

Since the start of the 2019-2020 crop year on Aug. 1, Canadian National (CN) has moved 21.55 mmt, with 20.7 mmt coming from western Canada. 

“Despite difficult conditions, CN handled 51% of all Canadian grain rail shipments in the first quarter, including 52% of market share in March,” explained James Cairns, CN senior vice president, rail-centric supply chain. “We are in great shape and ready to deliver during the final months of the crop year.”

Meanwhile, Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) moved a “best-ever” monthly total of 2.8 mmt in April, beating its November 2019 record by more than 100,000 metric tonnes.

Since Aug. 1, CP moved 21.4 mmt, 6% more than the same point last year and 8% higher than its previous three-year average, the company said. The reopening of the Port of Thunder Bay should enable “strong grain shipping for the remainder of the 2019-2020 crop year,” CP said. 

“CP’s family of professional railroaders continues to deliver for our customers and the economy during this extremely challenging COVID-19 period,” said Joan Hardy, CP vice president of sales and marketing for grain and fertilizers. “By working collaboratively with our customers from field to port, we have been able to find synergies and efficiencies to drive the grain supply chain forward.”

Both railways have made significant investments to their western grain networks in recent years, including track improvements and new hopper cars.

The railways, and CN in particular, also faced shipping challenges in February stemming from protesters blocking parts of their rail network in support of a First Nations group’s objections over the location of a proposed fracked gas pipeline in northern British Columbia. Grain shippers said the blockades resulted in delays throughout the network and at the ports that would take weeks to resolve.