Grain vessels backing up at West Coast

A demonstrator stands at a blockade on CN track west of Edmonton on Feb. 19, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Codie McLachlan)

MarketsFarm — Vessels waiting to ship grain off Canada’s West Coast are backing up as blockades across the country slow rail traffic, according to reports tracking grain movement.

Railway blockades have sprung up at a number of locations across the country over the past two weeks, as protestors express solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposing the planned path of a Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia.

Via Rail on Wednesday announced temporary layoffs of nearly 1,000 people, while Canadian National Railway (CN) has stopped most eastern operations and temporarily laid off 450 employees.

Along with the blockade on the CN line through northern British Columbia to Prince Rupert, blockades have also gone up in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and, most recently, on the CN main line near Edmonton.

There were 40 vessels at Vancouver as of Sunday and 10 at Prince Rupert, according to the latest weekly grain monitoring report compiled by the Quorum Corporation.

The Vancouver lineup compares with the one-year average for the port of 24 vessels, while the Prince Rupert yearly average is only five. Eight vessels were cleared in Vancouver during the week, but none in Prince Rupert.

“Blockades on CN’s B.C. North Line closed traffic to and from the Port of Prince Rupert for week 28 and into week 29 leaving the grain terminal out of grain and all port anchorages utilized,” said the Quorum report.

“Also, line outages on the Joint Section between Kamloops and Vancouver have impacted traffic for weeks 27 and 28 and are expected to impact both (CN and Canadian Pacific) railways’ ability to position empty cars in the country in weeks 28 and 29. These disruptions account for the increasing vessel lineups at both ports.”

A separate daily report from the Ag Transport Coalition also highlighted the impact blockades were having on rail operations, both to the east and the west.

“If the blockade near Acheson (Alta., west of Edmonton) impedes the westerly flow of traffic to Prince Rupert for an extended period of time it will negatively impact the port,” the coalition report said, adding “there are currently more than 850 cars enroute to Prince Rupert, however only some 300 of these cars are currently west of Edmonton; an extended closure may cause the port to run out of loads for unloading before the end of the current week.”

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