Moving Grain: Railroads Hauled Record Volumes from Canada in 2018-19

Photo by Ken Hammond, USDA

Railroads Move Record Volumes of Canadian Grain

Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) recently announced they hauled record amounts of Canadian grain and grain products in the 2018/19 crop year, which ended July 31. CN stated it shipped more than 27 million metric tons (mmt) of Canadian grain, a 4 percent increase from last year.

In 2018/19, CP shipped almost 27 mmt of Canadian grain and grain products, 3 percent higher than the prior year. According to the Surface Transportation Board’s rail performance data, CP and CN also originated about 4 percent fewer grain carloads in the U.S. during the August 2018 through July 2019 timeframe.

Grain carloads are also down for U.S. railroads. Year-to-date, U.S. Class I railroads have originated 5 percent fewer grain carloads compared to last year.

New Chicago Chassis Depot Expected to Bring Relief for Local Container Exporters

DNJ Intermodal (DNJ) announced the opening of a new chassis depot near the Canadian Pacific Railway’s (CP) Bensenville Terminal near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Because CP’s Bensenville terminal stores containers on the ground instead of on chassis, truckers must pick up a chassis before getting a container.

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The new depot offers chassis from three providers: (1) the Consolidated Chassis Management’s (CCM’s) cooperative Chicago and Ohio pool, (2) TRAC Intermodal-Hapag Lloyd, and (3) the North American Chassis Pool Cooperative.

According to DNJ, “The move is a welcome relief for a market with chronic chassis shortages due to the huge volume of containers moving through the city.” Most U.S. containerized grain exports originate in the Chicago region.

Total Grain Inspections Down Slightly; Mississippi Gulf Continues Up

For the week ending August 1, total inspections of grain (corn, wheat, and soybeans) for export from all major U.S. export regions reached 2.12 million metric tons (mmt). This amount is down 4 percent from the previous week, down 18 percent from last year, and 15 percent below the 3-year average. Inspections were down from the previous week for each of the three major grains.

Despite the decrease in overall inspections of grain, Mississippi Gulf grain inspections increased 21 percent from the previous week. The increase was primarily due to increased inspections of soybeans and wheat. Total grain inspections in the Mississippi Gulf were also the highest since late April. Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain inspections decreased 22 percent from week to week.

Snapshots by Sector

Export Sales

For the week ending July 25, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 16.8 mmt. This indicates a 10 percent decrease in outstanding sales, compared to the same time last year. Net corn export sales reached .143 mmt, up 18 percent from the previous week. Net soybean export sales were .143 mmt, up notably from negative sales during the past week. Net weekly wheat export sales reached .383 mmt, down 42 percent from the previous week.


U.S. Class I railroads originated 22,342 grain carloads, for the week ending July 27. This is a 2 percent decrease from the previous week, 8 percent less than last year, and 4 percent lower than the 3-year average.

Average August shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $204 below tariff for the week ending August 1. This is $26 less than last week and $33 lower than last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


For the week ending August 3, barge grain movements totaled 677,434 tons. This is a 14 percent decrease from the previous week and 16 percent less than the same period last year.

For the week ending August 3, 442 grain barges moved down river. This is 54 fewer barges than the previous week. There were 660 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 12 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending August 1, 34 ocean-going grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf. This is 17 percent more than the same period last year. Fifty-one vessels are expected to be loaded within the next 10 days. This is 11 percent more than the same period last year.

As of August 1, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $49.50. This is 2 percent less than the previous week. The rate from the PNW to Japan was $27.50 per mt, 2 percent more than the previous week.


For the week ending August 5, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 0.2 cents from the previous week, to $3.032 per gallon. This price is 19.1 cents less than the same week last year.

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