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Mar 7, 2018

'We apologize': CN's Ruest aims to rebuild grain farmers' confidence

'No excuses': CN interim CEO vows to regain confidence of Canadian grain farmers

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Jean-Jacques Ruest isn't wasting any time trying to repair relations with grain farmers who have borne the brunt of CN Rail's operational miscues.

“We apologize for not meeting the expectations of our grain customers, nor our own high standards,” the company’s new interim president and chief executive officer, said in a press release Wednesday.

“The entire CN team has a sense of urgency and is fully focused on getting it right for farmers and our grain customers, regaining the confidence of Canadian businesses, and protecting Canada’s reputation as a stable trade partner in world markets."

Ruest was named interim CEO of CN on Monday after the abrupt departure of Luc Jobin. No reason was given for Jobin's exit, but CN Chairman Robert Pace said his company must "accelerate execution" with the help of a leader who can "energize" staff.

Grain farmers in Western Canada have been voicing frustration with shipping backlogs. Last week, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture said the problem was becoming "increasingly dire" and called on the government to take action by passing legislation designed to improve rail industry accountability.

According to the Ag Transport Coalition, CN and Canadian Pacific combined provided only 38 per cent of the rail cars ordered by grain shippers during the week of Feb. 12 -- CP delivered 66 per cent of its orders and CN just 17 per cent.

McCreath: 'For farmers, talk is cheap when it comes to CN Rail'

BNN Commentator Andrew McCreath weighs in on CN Rail vowing to repair relations with Canada's grain farmers by boosting shipment capacity. McCreath also weighs in on Gary Cohn's exit from the White House and the widening U.S. trade deficit.

On Tuesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay wrote a joint letter aimed at putting pressure on the country's two major railways to clear the backlog.

They expressed their "serious concern" about the failure of the railways to meet the expectations of shippers and customers over the winter. While the ministers said they understand the railways have faced challenges due to a larger than expected grain crop last year and extreme winter weather, they called the companies' performance "disappointing."

Ruest said Wednesday CN is taking a number of steps to improve service including incentives for "key" employees to postpone retirement and vacations, deploying extra trains by assigning managers to the frontlines, and investing more than $250 million to improve rail network infrastructure.

"Moving the Canadian economy is in our DNA," Ruest said. "We can and we will do much better, and that starts today – no excuses."

With files from The Canadian Press