Rail Service |  Ottawa raises the tone against CN and CP

Rail Service | Ottawa raises the tone against CN and CP

The country’s two rail carriers are being lectured by Ottawa, which is calling for the bar to be raised after a winter marked by “troubling” outages. The Trudeau government also issues a warning to the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) considering that it prioritizes its finances to the detriment of the service.

Posted at 8:00 am

Julien Arsenault

Julien Arsenault

These criticisms appear in two separate letters signed by Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and addressed to the leaders of CN and Canadian Pacific (CP). They were obtained by Press under the Law of Access to Information.

In general, the minister’s criticisms are directed at both companies. However, Mr. Alghabra is a bit more scathing about Canada’s largest railway company, based in Montreal.

“I am concerned that he has made a decision to sacrifice service performance in favor of operating rates and aggressive cost-cutting decisions, such as laying off crews,” he wrote to CN. Carriers and the Canadian economy in general have suffered. »

The Minister of Transport refers to the objectives presented by the former president and CEO of CN, Jean-Jacques Ruest, last fall. Under pressure from a militant shareholder, the company had announced a downsizing plan to cut costs, cut more than 1,000 jobs, including 400 union members (engineers and track mechanics), and potentially sell assets deemed non-essential.

Upon retirement, Mr. Ruest was succeeded by Tracy Robinson. The latter has not yet indicated how he intends to achieve the goals presented last fall.

More indicators

Visibly concerned about the interruptions of the last few months, Mr. Alghabra warns CN and CP that the changes in the Transportation Information Regulations they are likely to come into force. This would require both companies to provide more information to federal authorities.

“To shed more light on the implications of crew availability, I intend to recommend the inclusion of new requirements for Class 1 freight railroads to report crew levels by province,” it warns.


Omar Alghabra, Federal Minister of Transport

It is impossible to know when these changes will take effect. Mr. Alghabra’s office said on Wednesday that consultations on the deal had just ended. By email, CN responded that “last winter was one of the most difficult on record” and that the outage could not have been “significantly eased by additional crews.”

“Contrary to what is stated in the letter, last year there was no reduction in the level of equipment or personnel involved in the operation of our trains,” the company said.

For its part, CP says it has raised concerns with Transport Canada about the proposed changes. According to the company, “no rail data set” can “fully reflect” the performance of “the entire supply chain.”

Ottawa lacks teeth, says expert

For Jacques Roy, professor of transportation management at HEC Montreal, Mr. Alghabra’s missives have “a bit of bite, but not many teeth.” According to the expert, the Trudeau government, although it expresses its discontent, does not let the specter of possible important changes hover.

According to Mr. Roy, the “first step” would be to force CN and CP to publish publicly the performance, punctuality rates, of their trains.

this shows [les lettres] at least there is a government concern. Requesting template data becomes a control measure. is a message Companies will not be happy. It is an internal problem for them.

Jacques Roy, Professor of Transport Management at HEC Montréal

Rail carriers can hardly escape the rigors of winter. Low temperatures affect a train’s air brake systems. Carriers are forced to use shorter trains, at slower speeds. This often reduces capacity. The two main railway companies mentioned the winter cold in particular to explain the service interruptions.

However, four years after the Transportation Modernization Lawthat created the obligation for CN and CP to publish annual plans for the transport of grain during the winter, the progress is insufficient, judges Ottawa.

“CN has repeatedly reported that grain order fill rates are below 50% despite this year’s much lower crop,” the minister wrote.

Mr. Alghabra calls for “investments” as well as “operational changes” needed to raise the bar. However, he doesn’t mention any potential consequences if nothing changes.

With the collaboration of William Leclerc, Press

More information

  • 10%
    From January to March, revenue per ton-mile, a key industry indicator, for CN and CP decreased 10% from the first quarter of 2021.

    Source: Railway Association of Canada

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