Both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways achieved record grain movements in the 2020-2021 crop year.
CN moved over 31 million metric tonnes (MMT). This record exceeds the previous record for carload movement of 29.4 MMT set in the 2019–2020 crop year. CN also moved over 1.1 MMT of grain from Western Canada via containers, with grain volumes moved from Eastern Canada in addition to these levels.
CP hauled 30.62 MMT, breaking its annual movement record for the fourth consecutive year. It beat last year’s record of 29.52 MMT by 1.10 MMT, or 3.7 percent. Including grain moved in containers, CP moved a total of 31.21 MMT, up 3.4 percent from last crop year.
CP’s 2020–2021 grain movement was 15 percent ahead year-over-year through the fall peak. This continued through the winter months. At the end of March, CP had moved 14 percent more this crop year compared to the record movement last crop year. However, because of market conditions and a tight supply of grain, demand started to fall off in April. Through May, June and July shipper demand was almost 15 percent below the same period last year, and 25 percent below the fall peak demand levels.
“The challenge created by the Covid-19 pandemic over the past 17 months has underpinned the value of strong communication and supply chain collaboration,” said Joan Hardy, CP’s vice-president sales and marketing, grain and fertilizers.
“Despite a sharp reduction in demand this spring, CP and our customers have again broken our movement record, and we celebrate that achievement across the supply chain.”
In May 2021, CN announced its plans to acquire 1,000 new-generation, high-capacity, grain hopper cars. These are part of a larger 3,500-hopper-car fleet renewal program over the next three years. CN’s new generation fleet will grow to 6,000 hopper cars.
“CN’s grain movement has been resilient during the pandemic, achieving 14 straight months of Canadian grain volume shipment records,” said JJ Ruest, CN’s president and CEO.
“We recognize that growing conditions across much of the Prairies have been very challenging as many producers face extremely hot and dry weather this year. Our dedicated team of railroaders will continue to work tirelessly with Canadian farmers, agri-organizations and grain customers to have the resources in place to move the upcoming harvest for the communities we proudly serve.”
High efficiency trains
CP credits its ability to move so much grain to its 8,500-foot High Efficiency Product (HEP) train model and investments made by customers. An 8,500-foot HEP train can carry more than 40 percent more grain than the 7,000-foot train model when combined with the additional capacity of CP’s new high-efficiency hopper cars.
As well, the railway reports that customers are investing in elevator networks to accommodate the 8,500-foot trains. Today CP serves 25 elevators qualified to load 8,500-foot HEP trains, 13 of which became qualified during the 2020-2021 crop year. By the end of 2021, more than 40 percent of the CP-served unit train loaders will be 8,500-foot HEP qualified.
CP made a half-billion-dollar commitment in 2018 to purchase 5,900 of the newest-generation railcars. The new cars can carry 10 percent more grain by weight and 15 percent more by volume than the older Government of Canada cars they are replacing.
Today, CP has more than 4,600 owned and leased new high-capacity hopper cars in active service, with plans to add 1,600 more by the end of 2021. This capacity upgrade has increased the amount of grain CP was able to transport in each railcar by more than a metric tonne from a year earlier