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Rail Roundup: Ag shippers want Congress to help avert rail strike

Also, Canadian Pacific sees record October grain volumes

Agricultural shippers are asking Congress for help should a possible rail strike appear imminent. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Agricultural shippers press Congress to act if rail strike is imminent

The National Grain and Feed Association, along with 192 other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group, want Congress to prevent a potential strike by railroad union members over the labor contract between the unions and the railroads.

“On behalf of our collective food and agricultural memberships, we write to urge swift action to avert a rail strike or lockout that would lead to shutdowns or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities resulting in devastating consequences to our national and global food security,” read the Thursday letter, which was sent to to the majority and minority leaders of the U.S. House and Senate. 

The letter also describes how the Presidential Emergency Board, a three-member panel of labor relations experts appointed by President Joe Biden, provided recommendations based on hearings and testimonies from both sides that could serve as a jumping-off point for a new labor contract. Six unions have voted to ratify their tentative agreements, two have rejected theirs and are either back at the negotiating table or are voting on the revised agreements, and four have yet to vote on whether to approve their tentative agreements. 

The unions and the railroads have been negotiating over a new labor contract since June 2020.

The agricultural groups noted that the National Railway Labor Conference, the group for the freight railroads, said recently that congressional action would be necessary if the unions fail to ratify their agreements. By not ratifying their agreements, a potential strike or lockout could occur. 

“A strike or lockout combined with existing challenges in the rail system, at our ports, with trucking and with record low water levels on the Mississippi River impacting numerous barge shipments would be catastrophic for the agricultural and broader U.S. economies. Congress must act to prevent this from occurring if the parties cannot reach agreement,” the letter continued. It cited Nov. 19 as the potential earliest date for a strike to occur. 

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Canadian grain movements break record in October for Canadian Pacific

Just as October was a record-breaking month for hauling grain for Canadian railway CN, so it was with Canadian Pacific.

CP (NYSE: CP) moved 3.14 million metric tons of Canadian grain and grain products during the month, breaking an all-time monthly record last set in October 2020 by 100,000 metric tons. 

The harvest bounty benefited from investments in network infrastructure by both CP and its shipping partners, including customers’ investments in upgrading their grain-handling capacity and CP’s investments in its network and in high-capacity hopper cars, according to the railway. 

“This remarkable achievement is a testament to the collaboration between CP and our customers, to our railroaders, and to the hard work of so many throughout the supply chain,” Joan Hardy, CP’s vice president of sales and marketing for grain and fertilizers, said in a news release. 

CP has invested $500 million over the years to acquire 5,900 high-capacity hopper cars, and the railway said that customers should expect to see more than 7,300 new hopper cars in active service by 2022, which includes leased hoppers.

“At Viterra, we’ve been making steady and targeted investments in our asset network over the last several years to ensure we can provide our farm customers with a high level of service,” said Kyle Jeworski, Viterra’s CEO for Canada. “By working closely together with CP, we aim to keep our supply chain as fluid as possible and support the efficient movement of commodities through our network. As we head into winter and critical shipping months for our industry, it’s important that we keep up this momentum and support Canada’s reputation as a safe and reliable supplier of food ingredients.”

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One Comment

  1. Don Starr

    The strike on November 19th will happen and sadly all the Union rail workers will not return to work and the Republican congress members will be called upon to move the freight in Canada and North America. The NCCC and Carriers have caused all this in 3 years of bad bargains and very serious greed of the carriers.
    Stock up very big on toilet paper.

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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.