Canadian National bridge fire hammers grain service in northwestern Alberta

Written by David C. Lester, Editor-in-Chief
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Natural disasters and fires have impacted this CN’s ability to move portions of the grain harvest.

Canadian National reported that a fire on a major bridge on the Grand Cache subdivision near Latornell, Alberta, has shut down rail traffic moving in and out of the Grand Prairie area until further notice.

The fire occurred in the wee hours of Wednesday, Oct. 5, according to the publication Real Agriculture.

Real Agriculture also reported that David Przednowek, the railroad’s assistant vice president – grain, said, “It’s too early to determine what the timeline will be to restore service. For perspective, that bridge was almost 600 ft long and almost 40 ft high. All I can really say at this point is that we’re waiting for an update to see how long it’s going to take to get that bridge back in service . . . it affects not only grain but other commodities such as frac sand and everything else that [runs] in and out of there.”

Further, Real Agriculture reported that a large sinkhole at the railroad’s Yale subdivision in southern B.C. shut down the corridor into Vancouver on Sept. 20. Once it was repaired locomotive engineers had to operate under restricted speeds to monitor the repaired sinkhole in case it opened again.

This situation has created a real mess for grain movement on CN. One notice from the railroad reported by Real Agriculture said, “These sudden incidents require significant time to clear the staged loaded traffic that had accumulated because of the outage. This ultimately will affect the available supply of empty hoppers for [the upcoming] grain spotting program as the outstanding traffic cannot all move at once, and CN needs to actively manage the lineup of loaded cars to avoid overwhelming terminals.”

While a story like this can be viewed in a macro sense in terms of simply noting the impact of grain service on CN, it’s important to appreciate the real impact something like this has on shippers and grain operators.

For example, the Financial Post reported the following aspect of the story: “Greg Sears was supposed to deliver 90 tonnes of his canola crop to a grain elevator near Grand Prairie, Alberta, about 500 km northwest of Edmonton, on Oct. 6. But before he left his farm, a local rep at Viterra Canada Inc., a major grain exporter, called and told him to hold off, likely for several weeks.

“That’s $75,000 to $100,000 of product that I’m not going to get a check for any time soon,” Sears said. In addition, Sears said, “An entire economy is relying on these little ribbons of steel through Canada. One bridge washout or fire or any type of event can cause some major impacts.”

Sears serves the Alberta Wheat Commission as board chair.

Read more articles about rail grain movement.

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