Rail car shortage creating backlog at pulp mills

Local pulp mills are having trouble getting enough rail cars to get their product to market.

It's been piling up in the parking lots at Canfor's Intercon and Prince George pulp mills as Canadian National struggles on several fronts to meet demand, particularly from grain farmers.

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"Yes, we are certainly dealing with an inventory build owing to transportation challenges," Canfor Pulp spokewoman Corinne Stavness confirmed in an email. "There has been a lot of coverage related to the railway, particularly with regard to to grain but everyone is impacted.

"We are working closely with CN on plans to clear the backlog."

CN Rail spokeswoman Kate Fenske provided a similar comment.

"CN has faced congestion issues on its network, including in British Columbia, and has taken steps to restore fluidity by adding locomotives and bringing on new crews across Western Canada," she said in an email. "We are working with all of our customers to bring down inventory levels and improve service."

Both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific have said they have faced challenges due to a larger-than-expected grain crop and extreme winter weather.

A bill to amend the Canada Transportation Act to improve public reporting by railways and to allow for financial penalties if they failed to deliver rail cars on time has been stalled in the Senate since last fall.

It's been the second time in four years that grain shipments have been stalled by backlogs, a situation Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has called mind-boggling.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay has no immediate solution for getting Canadian grain moving again as farmers begin planning for spring seeding, Canadian Press reported Monday.

"It's been an ongoing and unfortunate issue," MacAulay said at an event in Calgary on Monday.

"I've been in contact with the railways a number of times. They are in contact with me quite regularly. Is everything fixed? No."

MacAulay didn't answer when asked why Ottawa has not imposed an order in council as a stopgap measure until the legislation passes.

But he said grain transportation needs to be fixed now because Canada will be exporting $75 billion worth of product by 2025.

"That has to move. We have to put the system in place."

- with files from Canadian Press

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