BY BILL PHILLIPS
When the floor, or rather the app, was open for questions at the Council of Forest Industries convention, one question took the fast track to the top.
The room full of 500 forest company executives and officials wanted answers to the question of rail car shortages in western Canada. On the hot seat? Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
“I have pointed out the CN and CP that they need to do better,” Garneau told the delegation at the COFI conference in Prince George Thursday morning. “… CN and CP have mobilized quite a few resources. The picture with grain has improved. I believe that the railroads are taking this very seriously.”
The issue of resource industries in this province not being able to ship product because there aren’t enough railcars available has been highlighted by federal and provincial politicians in the province. Late last month the province sent Garneau a letter asking him to work with northern B.C. chambers of commerce to develop plans for improving oversight and performance of CN’s system in the region. Grain producers on the Prairies are also suffering through the lack of railcars.
CN and CP are getting more equipment and human resources in place to deal with the backlog of grain, Garneau said.
Garneau said new legislation, the Canadian Transportation Act Modernization, is close to being finalized and should help.
“It has a lot of measures in it to modernize the freight/rail legislation in this country, something that should have happened 25 years ago,” he said. “It puts shippers in a much better position if their contractual arrangement with the railways are not being respected. I’m hopeful the bill will help to improve the situation in the future.”
He said when the economy is doing well the pressure is put on the railway and it has to be able to perform when that happens.
“Unless we are able to move our quality goods to their destinations, whether its ports on the coast or southern destinations, then we’re going to lose our business,” he said.
Also on the subject of rail service, he said the federal government doesn’t believe in increasing oil shipments via rail. And, along those lines, reiterated Ottawa’s commitment for the TransMountain pipeline expansion through B.C.
“From our point of view it’s better to move oil by pipeline,” he said. “It’s safer, it’s less expensive.”