Propane industry responds to agreement ending CN rail strike

November 27, 2019 By    

Propane industry leaders in the United States and Canada are sharing their relief after Canadian National Railway Co. (CN) announced a new, tentative collective bargaining agreement Nov. 26 with 3,200 conductors and yard crews, ending a weeklong strike.

When the strike began Nov. 19, the Canadian Propane Association (CPA) urged the federal government to take swift action to prevent the interruption of propane shipments by rail.

“Rail transportation is extremely important for the propane industry and for Canadians who depend on propane for their homes, businesses, farms and fleets every day,” Nathalie St-Pierre, president and CEO of the CPA, announced on that day.

The propane gas associations in New England (PGANE) and New York (NYPGA) praised the CN agreement in their respective member newsletters but also acknowledged the possibility of delays in propane shipments.

“Please be advised that delays are expected as the surge of backlogged traffic works its way through the rail network,” the associations announced to their membership. “We expect it is going to take between two weeks and a month for the region to return to winter normal.”

PGANE and the NYPGA say they and the National Propane Gas Association have a hours-of-service request pending at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for transport trucks and will notify members immediately if granted.

The CPA also says the industry may continue to feel the impact of the strike for at least the next several weeks.

“We are thankful that the work stoppage has come to a successful conclusion, and we congratulate CN, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference and the federal government for their efforts in ending the labor impasse,” says Dan Kelly, chair of the CPA. “We also wish to thank the premiers and other public officials from across Canada for their support of the propane industry and their recognition of the importance of propane in the lives of Canadians.”

In the coming weeks, the propane industry will still be faced with the logistical challenges of getting the supply chain back to normal, and the CPA will be working with CN to ensure that the replenishing of propane is a priority in the aftermath of the strike, the association says.

“Our customers are our priority and CPA members are reaching out to them to ensure that they understand we are working as hard as possible to get levels back to normal as quickly as we can,” Kelly says. “We knew that the drastic reduction in rail support during the strike was going to impact the logistics in the immediate aftermath of the strike, and now we are working diligently to get supply back to normal.”

While the strike has concluded, Kelly notes that the recovery of supply to normal levels, particularly in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, could take weeks.

“As we have maintained throughout the work stoppage, despite best efforts to secure propane supply for customers from wherever we could, the reality is that the replenishing of supply to pre-strike levels will take time to achieve,” Kelly says.

Kelly also underscores the important working relationship the CPA enjoys with the agriculture community in Canada.

“The patience and understanding of our customers, particularly the agriculture groups who realized that the logistical challenge was not of our making, is greatly appreciated,” he says.

Kelly also reiterates that supply of propane in Canada was never the issue. What needs to be discussed going forward are ways to ensure that Canadian consumers of propane are not impacted due to future labor unrest, he says.

“Canadians have a great deal of confidence in propane as a safe, affordable, abundant and essential energy source,” Kelly says. “The CPA will work with governments, the railways and our stakeholder groups to ensure that the challenges that presented themselves as a result of the CN strike are not repeated in the future.”

CN says 1.2 million tons of propane per year, or 60 cars a day, can be transported from western Canadian producers through its network. About half of western Canadian propane is used within the region and one-third is shipped to eastern Canada, with the balance transported to the U.S. Midwest, the Montreal-based company adds.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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