Wed. May 25th, 2022

Arrival of grain trucks is crucial to alleviate supply chain problems caused by last weekend’s wild and deadly storm

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Grain and other shiny goods may begin arriving in reduced volume at the port of Vancouver by the middle of this week, according to the Canadian Pacific Rail.

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However, BC’s two other railroads – operated by rival Canadian National Rail – will remain impassable until at least the end of the week.

Last weekend’s wild rainstorm forced the closure of all three stretches. CN and CP’s main line, which runs through Fraser Canyon, were both closed due to landslides, while CN on Sunday reported the old BC Rail line it rents (which runs from Prince George to North Vancouver via Williams Lake, Lillooet and Squamish) had also been taken out.

CN spokesman Jonathan Abecassis said there were four points on what the company calls the Squamish subdivision that had been affected by landslides, leaching and “other things”.

“The track is not passable this time,” he said. “The entire subdivision is closed.”

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Abecassis said repairs to both the Squamish subdivision and the CN mainline would continue until at least the end of the week.

The provincially owned BC Rail line (Squamish subdivision) was leased to CN in 2004 for 1 billion. The lease is for 60 years and can be extended for another 30 years in 2063. The rail bottom is still owned by the government, where CN is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the system.

UBC Transportation Expert Garland Chow said that once the Squamish subdivision was repaired, it was physically possible to use that line to ship grain to the port of Vancouver to help deal with the current supply chain crisis.

“It’s physically possible,” said Chow, an associate professor of operations / logistics at UBC’s Sauder School of Business and former director of the Bureau of Intelligent Transportation Systems and Freight Security.

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“Whether it is economically feasible is up to the railway lines.”

The removal of CN and CP’s rail capacity from Alberta to the port of Vancouver has had enormous negative consequences for supply chains for grain and other goods.

As of Friday, there were 20 vessels waiting for deliveries, while a few hundred thousand tons of grain were stuck in transit in Alberta and beyond – according to Quorum, a company that monitors Canada’s grain transportation system.

Canada is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, with half of these shipments passing through Vancouver. The disruption comes at the busiest time of grain transport, and as global supply chains are already struggling with congestion and backlogs. Grain already in terminals at the Vancouver port is expected to run out over the next few days.

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Chow said the Squamish subdivision was a main line so it could handle heavy weights. The line also extends north from Prince George, where it services the mining sector.

He said railroad cars could be taken north from North Vancouver up to Prince George, then swapped with grain wagons there and brought down to Vancouver (through Quesnel, Williams Lake, Lillooet and Squamish).

He said most of the grain terminals in the port of Vancouver were in North Vancouver, which was positive for this route.

“It’s all economics,” Chow said. “It’s definitely physically possible, it’s operationally possible, it’s really just for them to answer.”

Abecassis said rail traffic to and from Prince Rupert was still moving, and CN was working with customers and the port of Vancouver to use the available capacity.

CP says it expects to have service between Kamloops and Vancouver restored by the middle of this week.

The company says it has repaired or cleared 20 separate track sections in the corridor.

A spokesman for the company says it works closely with local and provincial authorities to coordinate the supply of materials, equipment, food and fuel.

with files from Canadian Press

dcarrigg@postmedia.com

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