CN opens $4 million grain container facility in Edmonton

by Canadian Shipper

EDMONTON, Alta. — CN announced this week the opening of its Edmonton Grain Distribution Centre.

The new facility will make it easier and more cost-effective for specialty crop growers on the western prairies to ship their high-value grains and oilseeds in containers to overseas customers, CN says. CN invested $4 million in the facility, which is expected to handle 20,000 containers per year.

Previously, western prairie farmers had to first load their high-value crops into covered hopper cars and send the cars to Vancouver, where they are emptied and the grain transferred into containers. The stuffed containers are then trucked to dockside, for loading onto ships.

Now, these grains, grain products and oilseeds can be transferred from the farm truck directly into containers at the new Edmonton facility, removing an entire step in the logistics chain for many shippers. Farmers from outside the Edmonton region will have the option to move their products by railcar to Edmonton, and transferring the grain at the new facility.

“This will make the prairie supply chain more competitive in world markets,” said Peter Marshall, CN senior vice-president, Western Region. “Eliminating an initial hopper car movement will lower many shippers’ costs. But even if the product comes into Edmonton by rail, farmers will benefit by stuffing the containers in Edmonton instead of Vancouver. There are better rail connections and less congestion here, in addition to eliminating the need to truck product through Vancouver.”

Most Western Canadian grain moves from the prairies in bulk hopper cars. Increasing percentages of higher-value, human-consumption specialty crops, such as lentils, beans, and peas, as well as processed grain products such as malt and alfalfa pellets, are now moving overseas in containers. Grain shippers like using the containers for their higher-value products because this allows them to segregate their product from lower-value bulk grains, thereby ensuring they receive higher prices, according to CN.Shippers are also able to meet customer requirements for strict product identification, especially important for human foods, also helping them capture higher prices.

“CN recognizes the western Canadian grain industry is evolving,” said James Foote, CN executive vice-president, Sales and Marketing. “The sector is moving towards these higher-value specialty crops and processed grain products. The Edmonton Grain Distribution Centre, facilitates that transition and generates economic value to prairie farmers.”

While the vast majority of grain shipments will continue to be in bulk hopper cars,” added Foote, “this new facility gives the industry more shipping choices and competitive options for certain crops and grain products. Shippers will also be able to use our CN WorldWide freight forwarding services to obtain one single rate quote to cover the entire move, from the home farm to the final market in Asia. All this will allow prairie farmers to capture new and higher-return markets.”

The new facility is located in northwest Edmonton, just north of the Yellowhead Highway, providing easy truck access and good connections to CN’s local handling and intermodal yards. It consists of a 20-car capacity siding, with an enclosed loading facility allowing the transfer of grain from either trucks or railcars.

Shippers will be able to clean containers in the facility, and insert new liners before loading. An on-site container lift and two tilt tables, with integrated scales, will accommodate both 20- and 40-foot containers – the standard shipping sizes. The loading system will be computerized to achieve desired shipping weights, and a fully computerized inventory management system will allow CN and shippers to effectively manage the flow of containers in and out of the Centre.

Most of the 20,000 containers expected to be handled at the facility each year will initially flow to the port of Vancouver for export overseas. Beginning in the fall of 2007, containers will begin to move to the new container terminal now being built in Prince Rupert. This will give western Canada’s farmers yet another outlet to world markets.

And, CN will continue to service the existing Vancouver-based container stuffing services, preserving that shipping option.

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