Saskatchewan says details key as Ottawa eyes long term plan for moving grain

Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway have said they're ready to move the crop this year

Saskatchewan's agriculture minister says it appears that federal legislation to create a long-term plan for moving grain by rail will contain measures farmers want to see.

But Lyle Stewart also says "the devil can be in the details'' and those aren't known yet.

The legislation expected next spring is to include penalties for rail companies and grain shippers that don't meet service level agreements and addresses extended interswitching limits—the transfer of traffic between two railway companies.

Stewart says neither the interswitching distance nor a maximum revenue entitlement have been decided yet.

"We need to get those right in order for this to be successful,'' he said Thursday at the legislature.

"But on the others ... like the reciprocal penalties, better timelines and better access to Canadian transportation agency decisions, and a better definition of what constitutes adequate service, those are the things that we asked for and we're very pleased with what we've heard today.''

Farmers want interswitching kept at a distance of at least 160 kilometres to allow producers to have access to more rail lines.

The second-largest crop on record is expected this year and farmers are worried about a repeat of a rail bottleneck that occurred in 2013-2014 when much of the harvest was left sitting in bins for months.

Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway were accused of making oil and other products a higher priority than grain in 2013-2014.

The rail companies said that wasn't fair because frigid weather forced them to use shorter cars to ensure brakes could be used safely. The smaller cars in turn cut down on capacity.

CP and CN have said they're ready to move the crop this year.

"There is no problem at this point. I think the railways have been doing a good job of moving the grain that's available to them,'' said Stewart.

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