Canadian grain volumes set April records; U.S. rail volume slumps

Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) both moved record volumes of grain in April, following a harsh winter that sometimes curtailed rail shipments.

Canadian National said on May 8 that it moved an all-time record 2.72 million metric tonnes in April, compared to a three-year average of 2.23 million metric tonnes.

Canadian Pacific moved 2.643 million metric tonnes of Canadian grain and grain products in April, an all-time record that beat a previous record from October 2018, the company said on May 3.

The all-time record comes as CP is investing in high-capacity hopper cars to move grain grown in western Canada to export. CP is planning to use 8,500-foot trains to carry a minimum of 134 grain hopper cars, which CP says will carry 20 percent more grain that the 112-car grain trains.

CP also said it saw its second-highest average monthly workload on record in April, at 817 million gross ton-miles per day.

In addition to the grain announcement, CNI also announced two major export supply chain projects connecting to the Port of Prince Rupert in British Columbia coming online. Thermal coal from Coalspur’s Vista Mine in Hinton, Alberta will go to the port’s Ridley Terminals, while propane from Alberta will be headed to the new AltaGas Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal.

Canadian volumes up, U.S. rail volumes down

In addition to April’s record grain shipments, year-to-date Canadian rail volumes are higher so far this year, according to data from the Association of American Railroads.

For the week ended May 4, Canadian rail operations originated 2.7 million railcars and intermodal year-to-date, up 2.5 percent from the same period in 2018. Of that, Canadian railroads originated nearly 1.5 million railcars, which is 2.8 percent higher year-over-year, and 1.2 million intermodal units, which is up 2.1 percent from the comparable period in 2018.

Year-to-date grain volumes in Canada totaled 157,073 carloads, a 7.1 percent increase from the same period in 2018. Grain carloads represented 10.8 percent of total Canadian carloads.

Meanwhile, U.S. rail volumes were down again year-to-date. Total U.S. volume year-to-date was 9.3 million railcars and intermodal units, down 1.9 percent from the same period in 2018. Of that total U.S. rail operations originated 4.5 million carloads, which is 2.3 percent lower year-over-year, and 4.8 million intermodal units, which is 1.6 percent lower.

Canadian volumes represented 21 percent of overall North American rail traffic, while U.S. volumes represented 74 percent of overall North American rail traffic.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily. Her transportation background extends to writing about automotive fuels and additives for Hart Energy Publishing and producing summaries on advanced transportation research for a federal government agency. In her spare time, she likes writing travel articles, taking photographs, and singing and dancing. She has a bachelor's degree in music and political science from Barnard College, a master's in journalism from Boston University, and a master's in musical theater from Boston Conservatory.

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