Appearance at TRAN: Supplemental Mandate Letter and on the pre-entry testing requirements



Issue/Source: Railway AND WESTERN PORT Performance

Date: February 15, 2021

Suggested Responses

  • Despite many challenges, railways and ports moved large volumes of freight in 2020.
  • During the 2019-2020 crop year, grain production hit a record 75.1 million tonnes while rail shipments (58.6 million tonnes) and terminal elevator throughput (40.0 million tonnes) were also record volumes.
  • Despite numerous system disruptions throughout 2020, including strikes, blockades, container shortages, and current severe winter challenges, the transportation system remained resilient overall.
  • Through the National Trade Corridors Fund, the Government has allocated $1.9 billion to 88 projects across the country, leveraging total investments in excess of $3.9 billion from a variety of partners. These strategic investments in trade corridors are supporting increased global market access for Canadian goods and helping to get Canadians back to work.


  • Canada Port Authorities are key players in ensuring the fluidity and resiliency of the transportation system. We are completing a review of the current system.
  • We are considering a number of reforms to support the competitiveness of Canada’s economy by facilitating the movement of goods through our key gateways.


Performance of the transportation system

  • 2020 was one of the most challenging years in recent history for Canada’s shippers and carriers alike. Strikes, derailments, blockades, and COVID-19 presented tremendous challenges to maintain an efficient supply chain network. The system, however, remained relatively resilient overall, adapting to variation in demand.
  • Transportation demand was strong throughout the second half of 2020 and the first months of 2021, especially in Western Canada, where total rail shipments for 2020 ended the year 1.3% above 2019. Sustained demand for consumer goods, grain, potash and forest products have been driving freight traffic, while petroleum products demand remains very low.
    • Since August, nearly 23.6 million metric tonnes (MMT) of grain has been delivered to ports in Western Canada, with 15.8 MMT arriving at the Port of Vancouver alone.
    • West coast ports performance continues to be strong, with higher than usual volumes, specifically for consumer goods import (+13%), and bulk exports (+6%) led by grain & potash.

Winter Challenges to Rail Operations

  • Both railways’ crews returned to work after being laid off over the summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and cars and locomotives continue to be brought back into service. Nonetheless, and while large volumes of freight are being moved by both Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific, many shippers report issues with the service they are receiving, {ATIP removed}
  • The rail system is currently challenged by severe cold weather across the entire network, prompting the railways to shorten train lengths and restrict operations, which has increased delays and car cycle times, especially for grain shipments. Withtemperatures increase,expected to improve in the coming days, railways may be able to bounce back barring any unforeseen challenges.
  • In general, winter is a very challenging time of year for railway operations. Heavy snow, extreme cold, and weather-related equipment challenges often lead to reduced locomotive speeds, shorter train lengths, frozen switches, etc. Winter is also a busy season for shipping specific commodities by rail. In addition, Canada’s supply chains have been impacted by COVID-19.
  • As outlined in the Transportation Modernization Act, Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific must publish annual winter contingency reports, by October 1, outlining how they will handle the unique challenges of Canadian winters.
  • These annual reports provide the Minister of Tansport with anoutline of the measures the railways will be taking to ensure that they can continue to meet their obligations to provide freight service during the challenging winter months.
  • While the reports continue to improve year-over-year, shippers indicate that they are looking for even more detailed plans for meeting demand.

Container Supply Chain

  • Container throughput at Western ports remained strong over the pandemic and was higher than usual through the end of 2020 and early in 2021, hindering fluidity of the supply chain, notably at the Port of Vancouver.
  • Many shippers are reporting a shortage of empty shipping containers. ;Many grain products are shipped by container. This is particularly common in the pulse industry (beans, peas, lentils, etc.), as well as products such as malted barley. This shortage is not limited to Canada, as the United States and other countries around the world are also reporting similar shortages. One of the reasons for the shortages is the significant freight rate increases which incentivizes ocean carriers to get containers back to Asia as quickly as possible to be loaded.

Traffic management at the Port of Vancouver

  • The Port of Vancouver is the largest port in Canada and third largest in North America. Since 2014, the Port has seen an increase in the utilization of anchorages due to the growth of Canada’s Asia-Pacific gateway and record levels of Canadian natural resources export volumes and large commercial deep-sea vessels. In 2018, the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority handled 43% of all tonnage and 51% of all containers passing through Canada Port Authorities.
  • Increased ship activity and utilization of anchorages in the Southern Gulf Islands have been met with concern by certain Indigenous and local communities. Noise and light from vessels at anchor have been identified as concerns, as have impacts on the fish harvesting practices and cultural activities of local First Nations.
  • The Government’s goal for the management of anchorages is to ensure that commercial shipping is conducted safely and for the benefit of all Canadians, while seeking to minimize impacts to the marine environment and surrounding communities. Further, these actions should be part of broader active traffic management measures to optimize gateway fluidity with a view to promoting supply-chain efficiency and mitigating the socio-environmental impacts of anchorages on Indigenous and local communities.
  • Officials are actively working with key stakeholders such as the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority to achieve this vision.

Governance at the Port of Vacouver

  • Over the last year, there has been a campaign by agriculture-related stakeholders to lobby the government to address concerns at the Port of Vancouver related to decisions made by their Board of Directors regarding such issues as land-use priorities (lease-terms) and rental prices (requesting they be set below market-value). This campaign has also included representation by Prairie provinces seeking to increase their level representation on the port authority’s board of directors.
  • Transport Canada has communicated that Canada Port Authorities are independent, commercially-oriented entities that operate at arm’s length from the federal government. These entities have the authority and flexibility to determine strategic direction and make commercial decisions, including negotiation of leases and setting land-use priorities. However, their concerns – including with respect to board composition – are being taken into consideration through the Ports Modernization Review which is currently underway.

National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF)

  • The NTCF is an 11-year program (2017-2028) with $2.3 billion in federal funding that helps infrastructure owners and users to invest in the critical assets that support economic activity and the physical movement of goods and people in Canada. It represents a long-term commitment by the federal government to work with stakeholders on strategic infrastructure projects that help to address transportation bottlenecks, vulnerabilities and congestion.
  • To date, the NTCF has allocated $860 million in federal funding in Western Canada, leveraging more than $2.1 billion in total investments. These investments will strengthen the efficiency and resilience of infrastructure, including projects to support more fluid gateways at our West Coast ports, to expand inland transportation connections and better enable Canadian producers to reach export position.