CN envisions slowly double-tracking main line from Edmonton to Winnipeg

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Canadian National
MONTREAL — Canadian National will eventually double-track its busy main line between Edmonton, Alberta, and Winnipeg, Manitoba, with the pace of the capacity additions matching traffic growth.

Less than 100 miles of the 800-mile corridor is currently double iron, Chief Operating Officer Mike Cory says, not including the five sections of double-track that’s being added this year.

“Absolutely before I pass this earth I’m hoping to see the the majority of it double-track,” Cory, 56, told investors and analysts on CN’s July 24 earnings call.

Asked whether the double-tracking is a five- or 10-year plan, Cory responded: “It’s a forever plan. This is really in our breadbasket.”

The Edmonton-Winnipeg route is CN’s spine, carrying grain, potash, petrochemicals, energy-related commodities like frac sand and steel pipe, as well as intermodal traffic.

More double-track will make CN more resilient in the face of winter weather.

“It’s the toughest of weather conditions of any Class I railway,” Cory says.

The route has about 50 miles of double track between Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, but efforts to continue double-tracking beyond that section stopped in the 1970s, Cory says.

CN likely will add another four or five sections of double-track to the line next summer as it anticipates continued strong traffic growth.

CN got into a capacity crunch last year when traffic came on much faster than expected and it was short of crews, locomotives, and track capacity. The railroad did not add track capacity on the line after traffic declined in 2016.

CN executives have said they won’t make that mistake again.

“We will not stop even when volume goes down,” Cory says.

“There’s not a specific timeline,” CEO Jean-Jacques Ruest says. “It’s more volume-related than anything else.”

CN has completed five track expansion projects so far this year as it ramps up capacity in Western Canada and on its route linking Winnipeg and Chicago.

The work, which will wrap up in late fall, includes more than 60 miles of double track in seven sections, 11 new or extended sidings, and investments at eight yards.
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