A potential strike is looming at CN Rail and if that happens, grain transportation will be back in the news. Over the past year, grain transportation has not been in the public eye much because rail service has actually been better than usual. Mark Hemmes of Quorum Corporation manages the activities related to the federal government’s Grain Monitoring Program. Speaking to a Grain Symposium in Ottawa yesterday, Hemmes said grain transportation was better in ’08-’09 than it’s ever been. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much. Grain delivery points have dropped from 700 a decade ago to just 276. And there are one-third fewer train starts because there are more cars being hauled per train. Despite these dramatic system changes, railway performance is only marginally better. And while the average car cycle time is down a bit, there are still big problems with reliability. Hemmes says the main reason for the improvement over the past year is that “grain is the pretty girl at the dance.” In other words, the movement of other major commodities has been down dramatically, so the railways have been able to concentrate on grain. Guess what’s likely to happen to grain movement efficiency as the economy improves. I’m Kevin Hursh.