OMAHA (DTN) -- Milder weather and lower freight volumes have helped improve railroad service across the country, according to a recent BNSF report In its weekly service update, BNSF said that operations remained fluid over the past week with strong gains in on-time performance across all business groups. \"With Thanksgiving behind us and freight volumes returning to their traditional levels, locomotives are becoming more available and favorable conditions exist for improved velocity and network performance as we approach the New Year. We also expect milder, above-average temperatures throughout much of the network, particularly in the North Region, during the upcoming week.\" One snag in service last week was a derailment on Dec. 1 near Wadena, Minn., which closed both tracks. Service was restored by Dec. 4, and traffic is once again moving at a normal pace. The ongoing labor dispute in the Pacific Northwest is still an issue for all railroads in that corridor. BNSF said it is continuing to manage service inconsistencies at the ports and in some cases have place restrictions on some export/import traffic at several of its hubs. BNSF said, however, some of those restrictions were \"subsequently withdrawn based on a daily evaluation of conditions. With port operators and dockworkers resuming contract negotiations this week, we continue to hope for a resolution in the near future.\" According to its weekly update to the Surface Transportation Board (STB), BNSF cars due in North Dakota rose to 3,783 versus 3,145 the prior week. Montana\'s total was lower at 1,361 versus 1,381 the prior week, and Minnesota\'s total was also lower at 617 versus 891 cars the prior week. Shuttle turns per month to the PNW was steady at 2.4 TPM versus the desired turns of 2.5 per month. To see all of the Class 1 railroad service updates to the STB on Dec. 3, go to: http://goo.gl/ CANADA EXTENDS MINIMUM MANDATE BUT LOWERS TARGETS FOR RAILROADS This past August, the Canadian government raised the minimum weekly volume for shipments of grain that Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) and Canadian National Railway (CN) have to move in order to alleviate the rail backlog in Canada that was costing farmers and grain handlers lost revenue. The original mandate of 500,000 metric tons of grain was set in March, and in August, the mandate was raised to 536,260 metric tons with an expiration date of November. If the railroads did not meet those mandates, there were monetary penalties to be paid.
On Saturday, Nov. 29, the Canadian government extended a mandate for the movement of grain by rail through the end of March 2015. The new weekly minimum will require the CN and CP to ship 200,000-465,000 metric tons and can fluctuate in that range through March 2015. Dow Jones reported the following targets for Nov. 30, 2014, through March 2015: Time period Metric tons per week Nov. 30, 2014 to Dec. 20, 2014 - 345,000 Dec. 21, 2014 to Jan. 3, 2015 - 200,000 Jan. 4, 2015 to Feb. 21, 2015 - 325,000 Feb. 22, 2015 to March 21, 2015 - 345,000 March 22, 2015 to March 28, 2015 - 465,000 The mandate is designed to ensure Canada\'s grain crop is moved in a timely fashion in the hopes of preventing the backlog that left nearly 30 million metric tons of grain waiting to be moved through the first half of 2014. According to an article published by Argus Media, the government also ordered carriers to provide data on railcar order fulfillment by corridor, including the placement of cars at producer loading sites and along short-line railways to help promote transparency, a similar request made in the U.S. by the Surface Transportation Board. The difference is that the Canadian order includes a penalty of up to C$100,000 per violation if a carrier misses its quota, while there is no monetary penalty in the U.S. Small single-car grain shippers on short lines in Western Canada felt the original mandate only helped the large-unit shippers and left them short of cars most of the year with no recourse to the railroads. One of those shippers told DTN in an email that \"It\'s nice to see the government appear to hold the railways to account, but it isn\'t clear that these orders do much to affect their performance ... except to give the railways another excuse to not service small shippers.\"
He went on to say that shippers continue to receive roughly \"half of their weekly wants. With the new process of canceling unplanned orders at the end of each week, CN shows no backlog of orders. Since this implementation, we have had over 300 orders cancelled.\" He said that shippers have seen some cars most weeks, which is a huge improvement from last winter. \"Service hasn\'t deteriorated ... yet.\" Many shippers wonder what will happen if the winter turns ugly and if railroad performance will suffer even with the mandates in place. Both railroads were also required to submit winter contingency plans to the government to include service strategies for \"producer car loaders and short-line railways\" through July 2015. Both the CP and CN have publicly stated that they will continue to meet the grain mandates even though they don\'t agree with Bill C-30. In April, prior to the mandate becoming law, the Calgary Herald reported that the CEOs of both rail companies expressed their opposition to the House of Commons. The Herald reported that CN CEO Claude Mongeau called the introduction of the bill \"a sad day for Canada,\" while CP CEO Hunter Harrison called it \"grossly unfair.\" The Herald also reported that Harrison told the government at the April meeting, \"We are very concerned about the speed and lack of consultation by the government in making such significant changes to the rail transportation system that could result in unintended consequences for all stakeholders. We need to move away from reactionary legislative interventions that target unfairly one participant.\" Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org