‘It’s difficult to suck and blow at the same time’

by John G. Smith

TORONTO, Ont. – Canadians for Responsible and Safe Highways is in danger of losing its largest financial backer, as CN chief Paul Tellier asks the trucking industry to join railways in transportation-related lobbying efforts.

After a speech that deviated significantly from his prepared text, Tellier told the Ontario Trucking Association’s annual meeting that he will personally raise the issue as to whether railways should continue to fund the known anti-truck lobby group.

“It’s very difficult to suck and blow at the same time,” he said, when questioned by Truck News as to why the Railway Association of Canada funds CRASH when railways want to work with the trucking industry. “I’m ready to raise the issue with the RAC and (CP Rail president) Rob Ritchie … we are not alone at the RAC in thinking this way.”

Tellier admitted that he knew he was in the “lion’s den” as he asked truckers to join railways in transportation-related lobbying efforts, to better compete with their U.S. counterparts. “(But) the time has come to try to get together and develop with every level of government a well thought out transportation policy that fits well with every mode,” he said.

Perhaps more significant were the comments that were missing, such as one sent to news services that suggested new hours of service rules for truckers shouldn’t “encourage long-hauls that should be put on rail”. Nor did he mention that “both your industry and ours will benefit if more shippers move traffic from highways to rails. You reduce the highway congestion that is choking your ability to move. We increase our density, making our networks more viable.”

And while he spoke about the need for equal taxation and equipment depreciation in Canada and the U.S., he dropped an argument that railway diesel fuel is unfairly taxed. Still, he did insist that while railways pay 14 per cent of their revenue in taxes, the trucking industry pays just 10 per cent.

Ironically, a CN employee continued to hand out the prepared text and press release after the presentation.

Noting that some CN and CP lines are as little as 60 feet apart, Tellier even suggested a need for further consolidation in the nation’s railway industry. “Some rail corridors carry enough traffic to cover their costs,” he said. “On some others, the density is too thin to justify two essentially parallel lines.”

Overall, his speech was peppered with compliments to the trucking industry. “We are impressed by the way you are able to serve your customers as truckers much better than we are,” he said. “For the last 40 years you have been eating our lunch.”

The facts speak for themselves. In 1960, railways accounted for a third of available revenue while trucks enjoyed two thirds. Trucks have since gained another 12 per cent of the markets. And while the trucking industry grows at 7.5 per cent per year, railways are growing at 3.8 per cent, he said.

“Well, maybe we made a better sandwich,” quipped OTA member Bill MacKinnon of Guelph-based MacKinnon Transport.

Decades of anti-truck lobbying efforts have been fruitless, OTA president David Bradley said after the speech, referring to suggestions that the CRASH funding might end.

The American Insurance Association pulled out of the U.S.-based CRASH because “they said CRASH became the issue and not safety,” he added. “And we’ve got to that point in Canada.

“If I was the CEO of RAC, I’d get as far as I could from that group. They are not grassroots and the public is not buying that.”

CRASH failed to return calls from Truck News. n

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