Posts Tagged ‘Canadian National’

CN Plans to Boost Capital Spending in 2018

January 13, 2018

Canadian National plans to boost capital spending this year by greatly expanding its track capacity.

The bulk of that expansion will occur in Canada, although CN is planning to expand capacity of its route between Chicago and Winnipeg.

Jim McLeod, CN’s chief engineer, structures, design & construction, described CN’s capital spending during a presentation at the National Railroad Construction & Maintenance Association conference as moving from “steady as we go” to a cycle of “the gangbuster variety.”

This year CN will add 49 miles of double track tracking, four new sidings, and three siding expansions.

It also plans to begin renewing the St. Charles Air Line in Chicago, which is used by Amtrak trains between the Windy City and New Orleans. Some bridges on the St. Charles Air Line were built in 1899.

In total, CN plans to spent $85 million in 2018 and $100 million in 2019 on bridges.

Basic track infrastructure spending will rise from $1.18 billion in 2017 to $1.2 billion in 2018, $1.23 billion in 2019 and $1.27 billion in 2020.

The work includes replacement of 1.1 million crossties, a 20 percent increase, and replacement of 446 track miles of rail, which would be equal to what the railroad did in 2017.

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Ex-CN Signal Maintainer Facing Prison Term After Cutting Crossing Wires in Battle Creek, Michigan

January 11, 2018

A former Canadian National signal maintainer is facing a 20-year prison term after he pleaded guilty in a federal court in Michigan to a felony charge of impairing a railroad safety signal by cutting wires at grade crossings in Battle Creek.

Jeffrey Alan Taylor, who lives in the Upper Peninsula, was captured on video cutting the wires during a 2017 visit to the Battle Creek area.

The result was that the crossing gates went down and stayed down even though no train was approaching. That caused a traffic backup.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Davin Reust told the court that it must reject Taylor’s contention that the result of his action was nothing more than an inconvenience for motorists.

“This argument ignores the obvious; removing one of multiple safety systems cannot make the system safer . . .,” Reust wrote in a memorandum to the court. “Taylor’s argument boils down to one that he should not be held accountable for intentionally creating a safety hazard because no catastrophe occurred here.”

The first two wire-cutting incidents occurred in January 2017. After the second incident, the railroad installed hidden surveillance cameras at Battle Creek crossings.

Taylor was captured on video in June after CN received a report of the gates being down.

The video showed him parking his truck near a crossing, walking to the site and using wire cutters to cut signal wires

He was not employed by CN at the time of the wire cutting incidents, but had worked for the railroad between 1994 and 2009.

William Weise, an attorney representing Taylor, said his client accepted full responsibility and did not bear any ill will toward CN. Nor was this an act of terrorism.

Weise contended that Taylor was suffering from undiagnosed depression at the time of the wire-cutting incidents.

Taylor grew up in Richland, Michigan, and was the owner with his wife of a motel in St. Ignace in the Upper Penisula that was struggling financially. The attorney also said that Taylor had been caring for his mother, who died last February.

“Mr. Taylor believed his actions would be a nuisance to the railroad,” Weise said. “This has been an agonizing experience for Mr. Taylor as he has seen the effect this has had on his family and the community around him.”

CSX Names Operations VP

January 9, 2018

A former Canadian National executive has been brought out of retirement to help CSX in its implementation of precision scheduled railroading.

Harris

Edmond L. Harris has been named executive vice president of operations and will oversee mechanical, engineering, transportation and network operations.

Harris, who will begin his position immediately, worked with the late E. Hunter Harrison and current CSX CEO James M. Foote at CN.

He also worked with Harrison at the Illinois Central Railroad where Harrison initially implemented the precision scheduled railroading model.

During his 40 years in the railroad industry, Harris rose to the post of executive vice president of operations at CN.

He later served as chief operations officer at Canadian Pacific and held a seat on the CP board of directors.

Harris also was as a senior adviser to Global Infrastructure Partners, an independent fund that invests in infrastructure assets worldwide; chairman of Omnitrax Rail Network; and board director for Universal Rail Services. He began his railroad career in operations at the IC.

Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in management from the University of Illinois-Chicago,  Harris served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1969 to 1973.

CN Led Traffic Growth in 2017

January 9, 2018

Canadian National led all North American Class 1 railroads in 2017 in traffic growth.

The Montreal-based carrier posted a 10.4 percent increase in carload and intermodal traffic, which was more than double the industry average.

The figures are based on data compiled by the Association of American Railroads, which said that on an industry-wide basis North American rail traffic rose by 4.8 percent in 2017.

Last year, CN saw an increase of 16 percent in its intermodal business and 9 percent in merchandise traffic.

In second place was BNSF, which saw its traffic rise 5.4 percent, much of it fueled by a growth of 6 percent in intermodal and coal business.

Kansas City Southern finished third in the traffic growth derby with 5.2 percent growth in traffic, most of it in merchandise business, which was up 9 percent.

Norfolk Southern had growth of 4.9 percent, much of it coming from intermodal traffic. Canadian Pacific had traffic growth of 4.4 percent, much of it potash and frac sand traffic.

At Union Pacific, traffic was up 2 percent, based largely on coal and frac sand.

CSX was the only class 1 to see traffic decline, by 0.2 percent. Carload traffic at CSX fell by 1.4 percent while intermodal dropped by 2.2 percent.

CN Orders 200 new Locomotives from GE

December 23, 2017

Canadian National has ordered 200 new locomotive from GE Transportation.

The units will be built starting next year at the assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas, with delivery running through 2020.

The locomotives include units from the Tier 3- and Tier 4-compliant Evolution™ Series line equipped with GE Transportation’s GoLINC™ platform, Trip Optimizer™ system and Distributed Power LOCOTROL® system.

“We are bullish on the North American economy and on our ability to compete and win new business with our superior service model. In the years ahead, these GE locomotives and their digital technology will support and enhance our operational efficiency,” said CN President and Chief Executive Officer Luc Jobin in a statement.

I See the IC

December 19, 2017

One of my primary motivations for going to Conneaut to railfan is the hope of catching a Canadian National train on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie. Of course, my objective in doing that is getting the former Illinois Central SD70 locomotives that have been assigned to the route since March 2015.

Since the IC units have been assigned to the ex-B&LE, every train I’ve spotted on the line has had IC motive power.

The IC units are not always leading. Much of the time, the motive power consist includes at least one engine painted in CN colors and markings.

On a rare occasion, there has been a unit still wearing its B&LE colors and markings. I’ve also seen pure IC motive power consists.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was sitting by the Main Street crossing monitoring the rail traffic on Norfolk Southern.

Then the gates started coming down on the B&LE tracks at the Main Street crossing. The incoming train had CN 5422 leading and IC 1034 and IC 1018 trailing.

That was good news. It would mean IC power would be leading when the train came out of the yard heading south.

Last September, the last time I caught a B&LE train, there had been a CN unit leading southbound.

I didn’t chase this train out of town. I photographed it from the east bank of Conneaut Creek, from the Main Street crossing, and from the U.S. 20 bridge. That was enough for this day.

Harrison’s CSX Legacy Gets an Incomplete

December 17, 2017

Shortly after I learned on Saturday afternoon about the death of CSX CEO E. Hunter Harrison, I logged into Trainorders.com to get a sense of how railfans were reacting to the news.

As I expected, many, although not all, posters wrote harsh, bitter and even over the top comments along the lines of “good riddance.”

A poster who goes by the screen name Darkcloud wrote, in part, “While it might be sad for his family, he ruined a lot of lives of rail workers who didn’t have the safety net of wealth to fall back on that he and his family do. Good men with good records fired under false pretenses or minor errors. Fired to ‘send a message’ or to save a few more dollars to pay for [the] obscene salary he demanded when already a set for life multi-millionaire.”

The business press by contrast offered a more gentile and longer view of Harrison’s passing.

Typical of those accounts was one published at Bloomberg.com that described Harrison as a turnaround chief executive officer.

“By relying on a strategy of cutting costs and implementing procedures to make all parts of the operation more efficient, Harrison transformed Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., Canadian National Railways Co. and Illinois Central Corp. into rail industry leaders. His reputation among analysts and investors was so strong that CSX shares jumped 23 percent on a single day in January 2017 when reports emerged that Harrison was in talks to take the helm,” Bloomberg reporter Frederic Tomesco wrote.

Can these disparate points of view be reconciled? Yes, if you keep in mind that how you view Ewing Hunter Harrison is shaped by the angle from which you view him.

History books are more likely to portray Harrison in the manner that Bloomberg did than with the emotionally wrought language often employed on chat lists.

And yet both speak to the same point. Harrison was a controversial but hard to ignore figure revered on Wall Street and respected by business writers and railroad trade journals, but often loathed by many who worked on his railroads.

There is no denying that Harrison will be remembered for his concept of precision scheduled railroading that he honed on the IC and then took to CN, CP and CSX.

There also is no denying that the tools that Harrison used to make his railroads more efficient included reducing payroll and demanding in no uncertain terms that workers and manager do things his way.

He lived by the credo of doing more with less; that meant fewer employees and assets, and pushing to get a little more out of both than his predecessors had done.

“Run a tight ship, and you can expect a reasonable return; manage it badly, and the sheer weight of assets will sink you,” Harrison wrote in his 2005 book How We Work and Why: Running a Precision Railroad

Harrison sought to frame himself as concerned with the welfare of his railroad’s employees and even hinted that he was pro labor. Yet at CP he ordered mid-level managers to learn how to operate trains in the event that the unions went on strike.

Likewise, Harrison sought to frame what he was doing at CSX as in the best interests of the railroad’s shippers even as many of those shippers flooded the U.S. Surface Transportation Board with complaints about shoddy service.

CSX acknowledged having service issues during the transition to the precision scheduled railroading model.

But Harrison was an old school manager who saw himself as being in the railroading business and not necessarily the transportation business, a viewpoint that was not unique to him.

He would never accept the premise of that statement, but even by his own words, Harrison acknowledged that CSX was trying to get shippers to change their behavior rather than the other way around.

A few weeks ago he dismissed shipper complaints as long-standing efforts by shipper trade groups to get the federal government to impose regulations on railroads.

This spoke to a paternalistic bent of “I know what is best for you” that no doubt irritated some CSX customers. What is best for shippers is not always what is best for CSX and vice versa.

Of late, Harrison and CSX executives had been touting the improvements that the railroad has made in such metrics as average train speed and dwell time of cars in classification yards.

Some of Harrison’s critics and even his admirers have wondered if precision scheduled railroading could work at CSX with its labyrinth route network and more complex mix of traffic than IC, CN or CP.

We’ll never fully know the answer to that question because Harrison won’t be around to see the process through. His CSX legacy is and always will be incomplete.

He led CSX for less than a year and although the surviving managers are likely to continue the precision scheduled railroading model, they won’t have Harrison around to lean on for guidance, leadership and inspiration.

Whatever successes or failures that CSX has in the coming months and years will be on those managers and not Harrison even if he established the direction that the railroad is going.

I’ve always believed that our society places too much emphasis on the efforts of individual presidents and chief executive officers.

We see them as larger than life figures and tend to attribute to them an organization’s good and bad behavior at all levels.

To be sure, the man or woman at the top sets a tone that percolates downward through the top managers that he or she hired and oversees. Some CEO’s do better at that than others.

Yet the focus on personality can overlook the context in which the top executive operates and might attribute to personality what is actually the work of culture and external forces and how an organization responds to those.

Yes, the personality, talent and skill of the CEO play a role in organizational behavior, but Class 1 railroads are complex organizations that engage in multiple juggling acts to seek to satisfy multiple masters.

Whether you thought Harrison did that well or not depends on your perspective as the commentary about his passing well illustrates. But critics and admirers both can agree that he was a towering figure in the railroad industry who stood over many of his peers and will be remembered for much longer than many of them because of his efforts to be a transformative leader.

CN Looking to Acquiring Locomotives

December 7, 2017

Canadian National is in the market for additional locomotives. The Montreal-based Class 1 railroad has removed engines from storage, accelerated the rebuilding of some units and is scouring the locomotive leasing market.

Along with that good fortune have come crew shortages and congestion on its route between Chicago and Edmonton in Alberta.

Speaking to an investors conference this week, CN Chief Financial Officer Ghislain Houle said, “ . . . don’t be surprised next year if you hear us being in the market to acquire locomotives.”

The railroad in the meantime is leasing 100 locomotives, half of which are already in service with others due to arrive in January.

Houle told the Credit Suisse Industrials Conference that CN has enjoyed better than expected growth in such traffic as intermodal and frac sand.

He said during a traffic downturn in 2016 that CN extended some siding from 10,000 to 12,000 feet.

The railroad expects to continue increasing capacity because its goal is to grow faster than the overall economy.

“All boats rise with the tide. You’d like to do better than what the tide gives you,” CN Chief Marketing Officer Jean-Jacques Ruest said at the conference.

Reflections in Conneaut

December 5, 2017

Illinois Central SD70 No. 1018 and its running mates are reflected in the relatively calm water of Conneaut Creek.

One of the challenges of railroad photography is finding new ways to portray something you’ve already captured a dozen or more times.

Even then it might not be that you are doing something new as much as putting a new twist on something you’ve done before.

I ended up doing that during a visit last Sunday to Conneaut. My objective in going there was the same as it always is: Capture all three railroads that come into town.

But I also wanted to do something I hadn’t done in awhile. I recently showed some images of Norfolk Southern trains crossing the trestle that I had made in November 2005.

During that outing, fellow Akron Railroad Club member Ed Ribinskas and I had stood fairly close to the trestle carrying the former Nickel Plate Road tracks over Conneaut Creek.

I’ve been to Conneaut dozens of times since then, but seldom have I stood near the trestle. All other times I photographed from a distance with a telephoto lens.

I did that this past Sunday, too, but for the passage of eastbound NS intermodal train No. 206 I got close to the trestle.

The lighting conditions last Sunday were similar to what we had had during that 2005 outing. Both were sunny days with low sun angles that produced a warm feeling.

I created an image of the NS motive power crossing the bridge that was similar to the work that I did in 2005.

But after photographing the NS motive power, I noticed that the train was being reflected in the relatively calm water of Conneaut Creek.

I had to step back to fit the train and its reflection into the frame. The results are shown below.

I also created some reflection images when the Canadian National taconite pellets train came out of the yard later that day on the former Bessemer & Lake Erie. Those results can be see above and below.

The reflections are not as pronounced as they were with NS 206 and its containers and trailers, yet still pleasing.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve used Conneaut Creek as a mirror. It was the first time I’ve done it since the ex-ICRR locomotives showed up in 2015 and it was the first time I’ve focused on reflection photography from the NS trestle in this manner.

 

FPA-4 No. 6767 in Better Days

November 12, 2017

Today FPA-4 No. 6767 may sit at Fitzwater Yard stripped of its siding and components, but it hasn’t always been this way. Here is  the 6767 in better times. She is shown in London, Ontario, on March 25, 1981, working for VIA Rail Canada.

Photograph by Robert Farkas