CN Rail adapting to huge demand shifts in north/south rail movement

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Drought, offshore import shortages, and labour disruptions are among several factors CN Rail is juggling as the railway continues to work in overdrive to ensure products and commodities get to where they need to be.

Many people likely think of trains running westbound bringing goods to the coast, however in recent times, where it seems trade flows have suffered one plot twist after another, north-south operating routes have become essential for producers to maintain their operations. David Przednowek, assistant vice president of grain for CN Rail, talks about how railways are moving approximately seven times the amount of exports this year compared to last, due in part to impacts of 2021’s crippling drought.

“If you go look at the accumulated exports of U.S. corn to Canada, it stood at 2 million tonnes as of the week of March 3, and there was another million and a half tonnes of outstanding sales. So that’s three and a half million tonnes. Compare that to the same time last year, it was accumulated exports of just 250,000 tonnes with another 300,000 of outstanding sales,” he says.

Przednowek says this is no easy feat to organize, direct, and fulfill this large increase in demand. He explains they can’t just simply pick up crews from one area and move them to another to facilitate the influx. “You take a take a look at the resources you have, and you start turning that into train counts. And you have to try and plan it all the way from the origin to destination. It’s crews, locomotives, network capacity, all those things, you take those train counts tournament accrue and locomotive demand.”

This increase has been in large part due to the drought of last year and trying to get cattle producers the corn they need to sustain their operations. However, this could be the tip of the iceberg for CN Rail and other transportation companies as we are already seeing massive disruptions in offshore exports, namely fertilizer, due to the upheaval in Eastern Europe.

Przednowek says for now, they will continue to do their best in forecasting the upcoming supply chain needs but the trickle down effects are yet to be determined stating, “It’s a very, very difficult set of circumstances here. And it’s going to be hard for the supply chain to react to those changes”

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