In Canada, the grain transportation system is underpinned by a fleet of hopper cars. These cars are essential to Western Canadian farmers — they're what moves grain from inland farms to coastal ports, where it travels east and west to markets around the world.
Hopper cars are owned by a mixture of entities: the federal and provincial governments, shippers, and third-party lessors. In North America, the general trend has been for railways to decrease their ownership of hopper cars, with shippers purchasing or leasing cars to maintain capacity.
In Canada, the public actually played a role in supplying the hopper cars we use today. Forty years ago, the governments acquired approximately 19,300 cars, which were apportioned between CN and CP, free of charge, for the transport of Canadian grain.
As time has gone by, many of these cars have been retired. As of July 2015, this "publicly-supplied" fleet was estimated to be down to 13,400 cars. Here's how that publicly-supplied fleet breaks down today:
- Federal government owns 8,370
- G3 owns 3,240 of cars formerly owned by the Canadian Wheat Board
- Alberta government owns 893
- Saskatchewan government own 901
As the lifespan of these cars continues to expire, modelling suggests reductions in the fleet will occur first in five years with the Alberta-owned cars, then again in ten years with the federally-owned cars.
So, what options could be pursued with the publicly-supplied fleet expiring? What are the strategic considerations going forward?
At FarmTech, CCGA policy manager Steve Pratte delivered a presentation on the future of the publicly-supplied hopper car fleet. In this five minute video, he explains the issue at hand, and what the future holds for hopper cars in Canada.