Churchill throughput helps ease demand for railcars

CNS Canada — Shipping wheat and canola to Mexico by boat out of Manitoba’s Port of Churchill is helping handlers manage ongoing railcar logistics issues in Western Canada.

Grain handler Richardson International was the No. 1 grain shipper through Churchill in 2013 and is expected to remain so this year as well, starting the season by loading up 35,000 tonnes of No. 2 Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat. [Related story]

Even though shipping grain to Mexico would be much more direct by rail instead, Richardson is handcuffed by railcar availability, according to Tracey Shelton, the Winnipeg company’s director of corporate communications.

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“It takes two to three times longer to ship something by rail down to Mexico, to get the cars back, than to ship across Canada or to the U.S. It’s the longest cycle time.”

It doesn’t make sense for the company to do this, she explained, when it can use Churchill to accomplish the same goal.

Although Richardson also ships grain out of Vancouver and Thunder Bay, Shelton said they’re not always able to do so, due to the high volumes involved.

“Thunder Bay has a much longer window than Churchill does and Vancouver is open year-round; however, those ports are at maximum capacity so Churchill provides us another option to ship grain through.”

Shelton said it takes roughly two weeks for grain to reach Mexico from Churchill by boat. She wasn’t sure how long it would take railcars to reach that location, but guessed it would take roughly the same amount of time to get them there and return.

Weather, rail freight costs and getting through three different countries are other variables that also must be taken into account.

Once a seagoing vessel is loaded, she said, it can usually proceed non-stop to its destination — and while that happens, the company has railcars free for other business.

Shelton added Richardson has been using Churchill for shipments to South America too.

Port officials have said they expect to move 700,000 tonnes of wheat, canola and other products in 2014, which compares to 640,000 tonnes in 2013.

Typically the shipping season at Churchill runs from August to October.

— Dave Sims writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

 

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