By Bill Woods
March 11, 2014

A railway-friendly economist will say that you must pay more to get better service.  Unfortunately for farmers, when it comes to grain transportation the opposite is true.

Terry Whiteside, chair of the U.S. Rail Shippers Alliance, provided documented evidence that shippers in the U.S. who pay the highest rates, get the poorest service.  These shippers are captive to shipping only by rail, just like Prairie farmers.  The railways have to compete for freight that is not rail dependent so they give it priority over grain.

Railways get guaranteed business from captive shippers no matter how badly they treat them. The former Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) monopoly is the only shipper that successfully sued the railways for discriminatory service against farmers. In that 1998 court case the railways blamed the weather for their dismal service.  They called it “the winter from hell”. This winter, the railways are using the weather excuse again.

In 1998, the CWB had the data and clout to prove that once the mountains were cleared, the railways discriminated against grain shippers by servicing grain last. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz stole the farmers’ hammer by creating a neutered CWB.  Farmers watched helplessly as the railways moved them to the back of the line.

I was shocked to learn the railways are now telling Ottawa, “the revenue cap is the problem and farmers should pay more if they want better service.”  That’s hogwash.  With the revenue cap gone, farmers would be vulnerable to even more abuse.

Bill Woods, Eston, Sk.
Woods is a former CWB director

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