The grain backlog and what can be done about it was a hot topic at the Alberta Federation of Agriculture's Annual General Meeting last month in Banff.

While federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz has asked the railways to report more often, Federation president Lynn Jacobson says they 've asked for that in the past and they've asked them to do what's done in the U.S., report their sales, "They don't have to be in detail but they do it every week so they've got a timeline of the number of sales going out through ports. The railways reporting on how they're shipping and where they're at, while it might be of interest, it's still not going to make them ship more grain."

He says looking back six to nine months ago the railways said they would do about five thousand cars a week each and they are to meet that target but they are falling short there.

Jacobson says to increase grain movement rail companies will have to take cars from elsewhere like inter-modal transport and that could affect their bottom line. He adds capacity is limited to number of engines they can put on, "I don't think they're really short of cars, or grain cars, they're more short of engine power and crews to run that engine power. We've heard that C.P. had mothballed some four hundred and some engines and the crews that run them are gone."
Most of those laid off, he says, were front line staff on the trains.

Jacobson says something needs to be done for the long term because the whole economic performance of western Canada relies on the railways to a large extent and if they can't increase the volume of traffic on the rail lines, "We're in serious trouble."