CN invests $7.4B in the safety and the resilience of its network

By Geneviève Cournoyer-Scalise January 20 2021

Winters can be harsh in Canada and the effects of Mother Nature do not spare rail transport, which must maintain efficient operations despite difficult weather conditions. Snow and extreme cold are two major factors to consider at the operational level for railway companies who want to avoid operational delays that can harm the supply chain.

In order to consolidate the reliability of its service offering and to optimize its transportation operations, Canadian National (CN) has made a record investment of $7.4 billion over the past two years. The objective: to improve safety on its tracks and brave the rigors of the climate that can disrupt the fluidity of its network. CN’s investment has been used to acquire new operational equipment to face our Canadian winters, but also to get ready for increasing demand in anticipation of an economic recovery and a resumption of economic activities.

Here are some of the solutions that CN has invested in as detailed in its 2020–2021 Winter Operations Plan.

The acquisition of new locomotives

CN has purchased 260 new locomotives to add to its winter-ready fleet. These new locomotives run on alternating current rather than direct current, which improves traction and prevents wheel slippage caused by ice and snow on the track. These locomotives are able to maintain greater horsepower by disabling the wheel that senses slippage and rebalancing the horsepower among the remaining traction motors easily.

Air Distribution Cars for a More Reliable Braking System

Strategically placed throughout the train, conventional boxcars equipped with large air compressors and associated equipment assist in supplying a consistent flow of air through the brake lines all the way to the end of the train. This provides a safer braking system that can be used to increase the length of the trains and thereby transport a greater volume of goods during the same trip without compromising safety standards.

For non-intermodal trains, their length can be increased by 1,500 ft by additional air source, up to a maximum train length of 12,000 ft. A maximum of five (5) air sources can be used per train. Intermodal trains can be increased by 2,000 ft per additional air source, for a maximum of five (5) as well.

Considering the advantage that this type of specialized railcar provides in terms of additional quantity of transportable goods, CN has purchased 41 air distribution cars for a total of 101 deployed throughout its network. However, as soon as the outside temperature drops below -25 degrees Celsius, CN’s safety policy for train lengths in cold weather operations applies. Thus, four (4) different temperature levels (varying between -25 to -40) have been established by CN to determine the maximum length of a train depending on the outdoor temperature. Thus, train length can decrease considerably in very cold weather. Also, at a temperature of -40, railway operations take place only during the daytime for safety reasons. Fortunately, these waves of extreme cold only occur sporadically, even if they sometimes have an impact on the delivery schedules.

Avalanche Monitoring

CN can count on 84 detectors to locate debris or heavy snow that can block the tracks in its network. Active control and the preventive safe blasting of avalanches limit the delays caused by the temporary closure of certain routes congested by emergency maintenance operations. Preventing rather than reacting also tends to improve the reliability of the network.

Lengthening Siding

New additions and extension of lengthening sidings are also part of CN’s plan. The development of these tracks allows trains to cross and even overtake each other without slowing down the fluidity of the network in the event of a problem related to very cold snaps or many other reasons. This solution promotes train schedule accuracy and optimizes the transportation time.

Automated Track Inspection Cars

CN has acquired 10 automated inspection cars to detect possible maintenance work on its tracks. Equipped with the latest sensors and artificial intelligence technology, these cars run at regular speed while issuing reports to the engineering team. Among the data collected during the passage of the train, the gauge, geometry, and alignment of the tracks are calculated in order to spot issues before they become a major problem. As track occupancy time is now spent mainly on transportation rather than on facility inspection procedures, CN is becoming more efficient while increasing the capacity of its network.

Automated Inspection Portals

The establishment of seven (7) automated inspection gates allows the full inspection of a train at track speed versus a roll-by inspection at train departures from a yard. This initiative significantly reduces initial train start delays and improves yard capacity.

Taking Advantage of Slower Traffic to Carry Out Maintenance Work

Despite the challenging time that the pandemic has brought, CN has not been idle. They took advantage of the significant drop in demand to increase the number and duration of maintenance projects in certain sectors to get ready for and ensure efficiency during the upcoming global economic recovery.

In addition to the solutions listed above, CN’s winter plan has many other competitive advantages. By investing in the improvement and performance of its network, CN is demonstrating a real desire to adequately meet the needs of its customers who are concerned about delivery times and meeting deadlines, regardless of the unforeseen events that may arise along the way.

Although the train is not the fastest means of transportation, it is still one of the most reliable ones for the freight industry in North America. As an integral part of intermodal transport, rail is an interesting solution for the movement of bulky goods, ensuring an efficient transition to large ports and airports.

Would you like to know the added value that Canadian rail transport can bring to your business? Do you want to learn more about intermodal transport services to develop international business opportunities? Contact our team now. Our experts at Cargolution will assess your needs according to your deadlines in order to offer you the best solutions at a very competitive price, always!

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