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

Agricultural haulers are urging Congress to act as a rail strike looms

The National Grain and Feed Association, along with 192 other members of the Agricultural Transportation Working Group, are demanding that Congress prevent a possible strike by railroad union members over the labor contract between the unions and the railroad.

“On behalf of our collective food and agriculture memberships, we are writing to call for swift action to avert a rail strike or lockout that would result in closures or slowdowns of rail-dependent facilities, with devastating consequences for our national and global food security,” read Thursday’s letter sent to the majority and minority leaders of the US House of Representatives and Senate.

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

Unions and the railways have been negotiating a new collective agreement since June 2020.

The farming groups noted that the National Railway Labor Conference, the group for rail freight, recently said that if unions failed to ratify their agreements, Congress would have to intervene. Failure to ratify their agreements could result in a potential strike or lockout.

“A strike or lockout, combined with existing challenges in the rail system, our ports, trucking, and record low water levels on the Mississippi affecting much shipping, would be catastrophic to the agricultural and broader U.S. economy. Congress must act to prevent this if the parties cannot reach an agreement,” the letter continued. November 19 was mentioned as the potential earliest date for a strike.

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Canadian grain movements break record for Canadian Pacific in October

Just as October was a record-breaking month for moving grain for Canadian Railway CN, so was it for Canadian Pacific.

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

The crop premium benefited from network infrastructure investments by both CP and its shipping partners, according to Eisenbahn, including customers’ investments in improving their grain-handling capacity and CP’s investments in its network and high-capacity hopper cars.

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

CP has invested $500 million over the years to acquire 5,900 heavy-duty hopper cars, and the railroad said customers should expect to have more than 7,300 new hopper cars in active service by 2022, including leased hoppers.

“At Viterra, over the past several years we have made consistent and targeted investments in our asset network to ensure we can provide a high level of service to our agricultural customers,” said Kyle Jeworski, Viterra’s Canada CEO. “By working closely with CP, we want to keep our supply chain as fluid as possible and support the efficient movement of goods through our network. As we head into winter and the critical shipping months for our industry, it is important that we maintain this momentum and support Canada’s reputation as a safe and reliable food ingredient supplier.”

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