Canada Markets

Statistics Canada reports on October Rail Shipping

Cliff Jamieson
By  Cliff Jamieson , Canadian Grains Analyst
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This chart highlights the trend in Canada's non-intermodal rail volumes for all commodities shipped since January 2000. A record 28.3 million tons was shipped in October, up 5.2% from the previous month and 7% higher than December 2017, while pressure on the railways is expected to continue. (DTN graphic by Cliff Jamieson)

Statistics Canada Railway carloadings, October 2016 report shows that Canada's rail moved a record 34.7 million metric tons of freight in October, up 4.8% from the previous month and up 5.2% from the same month in 2017. The attached chart highlights the movement of non-intermodal freight since January 2000, reported at 28.3 mmt in October, up roughly 5.2% from October and 7.2% from the same month in 2017.

In Statistics Canada's list of top commodities shipped in the month of October, the volume of iron ores and concentrates moved has fallen by 4.9% year-over-year to 4.9 mmt and the movement of coal has slipped .02% to 3.05 mmt. At the same time, the volume of fuel oils and crude petroleum has increased by 87.3% year-over-year to 2.15 mmt, movement of wheat has increased by 10.1% to 2 mmt and the movement of potash has increased by 7.8% to 1.8 mmt.

It is interesting to note that when comparing historical data for two of the top five commodities shipped during the month, October was the first time that movement of crude oil measured in tons was greater than the movement of wheat.

Since reaching a low of 16.8 mmt of non-intermodal freight reported for the month of July 2009, the monthly volume has increased by 68% to October's 28.3 mmt.

Can this trend continue before grain movement once again faces performance issues? DTN's recent 360 Poll asked readers what they think of the Alberta premier's plan to invest in railcars to increase oil by rail movement. Even though the plan commits to prioritizing grain movement, 85% of respondents to this unscientific poll expressed concern, responding to a choice that indicated they were definitely concerned about the proposed increased movement of crude as railroads have struggled to meet demand in recent years.

This comes as both of Canada's major railways are reporting monthly records for grain movement. In October, CP Rail moved 2.64 mmt of grain, the company's biggest month ever. The month of November saw total volume slip slightly to 2.5 mmt, although the company did report a monthly record for the number of cars delivered to the Port of Vancouver in any given month, with 17,150 cars totaling 1.54 mmt delivered.

CN Rail's November Grain Update reported 2.7 mmt of grain moved in November, the best November results reported ever while also a record volume for an individual month. The total volume of 9.65 mmt shipped from Aug. 1 through the end of November is also a record volume.

Despite favorable data reported in recent months, the Ag Transport Coalition's week 19 Weekly Performance Update, covering activity for the week ending Dec. 9, shows both railways spotting 80% of the hopper cars wanted for loading during the week, down from 87% the previous week and the 88% average over the first 18 weeks of the crop year. This is still higher than the 71% reported for the same week last crop year, while this percentage later dipped to a low of just 32% of cars wanted for loading in week 30 of 2017-18.

While the two railroads are spending a reported $5.1 billion on key infrastructure, modernizing engines and cars and increasing staff levels, grain industry officials remain skeptical looking forward. Tom Steve, the general manager of the Alberta wheat and barley commissions, recently told media, "No one from the Government of Alberta has reached out to explain how grain will still be getting preference despite these additional pressures."

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DTN 360 Poll

This week's poll asks what you think of the recent Statistics Canada production estimates for 2018. You can weigh in with your thoughts on this poll at the lower right side of your DTN Canada home page.

Cliff Jamieson can be reached at cliff.jamieson@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @CliffJamieson

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