CN's Ruest is first to respond to US regulators on traffic slowness

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Jean-Jacques Ruest, Canadian National CEO
Canadian National website
WASHINGTON — Canadian National is adding the crews, power, and capacity projects that will help it improve service this year, interim CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest tells U.S. federal regulators.

“You have my personal commitment that we are acquiring the equipment, hiring the people, building the track infrastructure, and continuing to invest in technology to be well-positioned for 2018 and beyond,” Ruest wrote to the Surface Transportation Board in a letter posted on the board’s website on Friday.

CN was the first railroad to respond to the board’s request for information about service levels in light of deteriorating performance metrics at most of the Class I railroads in North America. The board’s request to the seven CEOs, made public on Monday, came in response to letters from grain shippers and automakers that painted a picture of slow and erratic service across North America.

Ruest says his top priority is rapid improvement of CN’s service. CN was unprepared last fall when traffic surged by 20 percent or more across western Canada, gumming up yards, clogging main lines, and leaving CN short of both crews and locomotives.

“We have taken immediate action across our network to relieve our congestion, particularly in our busy Chicago to Winnipeg corridor,” Ruest says.

CN is confident that with 130 leased locomotives on the property, and 60 new GE locomotives scheduled for delivery this year, it will have the power it needs. The railroad expects to hire 2,000 people this year, and has added 400 new conductors to the field so far this year.

CN’s local service performance has improved in each of the past three weeks. The railroad’s short-term priorities include boosting train speed and network velocity, as well as cutting container dwell times at ports.

As soon as spring weather sets in, CN will begin work on siding extensions and adding sections of double-track to its Chicago-to-Edmonton, Alberta, corridor. Combined with projects CN accelerated in late 2017, the spring and summer construction projects “will address key pinch points, provide resiliency, and increase capacity,” Ruest says.

CN’s challenge in moving automobile traffic is receiving empties back from other railroads through the industry pool, Ruest says. CN has taken steps to improve cycle times in Michigan, as well as to more quickly return bad-order cars to service.

Ruest was named interim CEO earlier this month, when the board announced the unexpected departure of CEO Luc Jobin.
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