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Viewpoint: CN Needs to Address O/O Issues

The transportation industry - and I mean shippers, receivers, freight forwarders, ocean shipping lines, railways, motor carriers and owner/operators - has a whale of problem that can be ignored no lon...



The transportation industry – and I mean shippers, receivers, freight forwarders, ocean shipping lines, railways, motor carriers and owner/operators – has a whale of problem that can be ignored no longer. It must get resolved. We’ve swept it under the rug far too long and it’s killing us.

The whale of a problem I speak of, of course, involves the protests over excessive wait times at CN’s Brampton, Ont. intermodal yard. As Truck News was going to press, the possibility of a complete shutdown of the yard was very real, despite efforts to clear the backlog of containers that sparked this latest round of owner/operator protests earlier in September. The protests had also spread to CPR’s Vaughan, Ont. yard, with threats that they could go nationwide.

Imagine the consequences of a drawn-out dispute where intermodal rail service to Canada’s industrial and retail heartland is cut off, marine ports further up the chain get congested as a result and ships carrying merchandise for the crucial Christmas season have to be diverted to U.S. ports, causing delivery deadlines to get completely out of whack and importers and retailers dependent on the Christmas season to go out of business. All that on the heels of SARS, the mad-cow scare, the B.C. fires, and the Ontario power blackout, which, combined, economists estimate have already shaved 1.5 per cent off Canadian GDP growth this year. It makes for one hell of an economic black eye and we are all going to pay for it one way or another, now or later.

Protesting owner/operators have every right to be angry with a system that has been allowed to deteriorate to the point where they are able to retrieve just one container from the yard per day for about $200. People that have to make monthly payments on rigs that cost upwards of $100,000 can’t survive on such inefficiency. But, although I appreciate that if it were not for their actions, the problems at the Brampton yard would likely have continued to be swept under the rug, reported violence against drivers willing to pick up from CN must stop.

The issues that must be dealt with to get to a long-term solution are difficult enough: Should cartage companies relieve the pressure at the yard by picking up containers on weekends since both the ocean liners and the railways are bringing them in on weekends? Should receivers remain open on weekends to accept them?

Or should CN be expected to invest in better storage facilities? If so, what should they charge for such storage? And if owner/operators are to be compensated for long wait times, who should foot the bill, who gets to say when and how such compensation should go into effect, and should cartage companies get a part of the compensation?

What’s needed to resolve such thorny issues is clear thinking from all stakeholders – not baseball-bat diplomacy.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached at 416-442-2922 or lsmyrlis@businessinformationgroup.ca


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