Carload traffic key to Canadian Pacific's purchase of Central Maine & Quebec

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CP_CMQ_Intermodal
Canadian Pacific's first international intermodal train from the Port of Saint John, New Brunswick, heads west via the former Central Maine & Quebec on Aug. 11, 2020. While the railroad has high hopes for port traffic, a CP executive says carload traffic was the key to the purchase of the CM&Q.
Canadian Pacific

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The opportunity to gain carload traffic was the main reason Canadian Pacific acquired 481-mile regional railway Central Maine & Quebec, which was once a part of the railway’s historic shortcut from Montreal to the Atlantic at Saint John, New Brunswick.

The CMQ — which links the Montreal area with Irving-owned short lines at Brownville Junction, Maine, and also extends to Searsport, Maine — is an origin for forest products traffic including lumber, wood panels, and pulp, says Coby Bullard, CP’s vice president sales and marketing for merchandise, energy, chemicals and plastics. 

The CMQ also is a destination for propane, plastics, and chemicals traffic that originates on CP, much of it in the Alberta Industrial Heartland north of Edmonton.

“It’s all about connecting markets,” Bullard told the North East Association of Rail Shippers conference on Thursday.

CP’s service for carload traffic to Northern New England and Atlantic Canada will be faster due to the elimination of interchange that occurred when CMQ was an independent railway, Bullard says.

The CMQ acquisition gives CP new direct access to 10 transload centers and five short lines, which are key strategies the railway is using for extending the reach of its merchandise network. 

CP’s merchandise traffic grew by 10,000 carloads in 2019. “It’s not a declining part of our business,” Bullard says. “It’s a growing part of our business.”

“CP is committed to being a major player in the Northeast going forward and we’re backing it up with investment,” Bullard says.

CP will spend $30 million this year — and $90 million total — to bring the CMQ main up to Federal Railroad Administration Class III track standards, which will permit speeds of up to 40 mph by the end of 2021. 

CP will install more than 300,000 crossties and 110 miles of welded rail on the 263-mile CMQ main between Saint Jean, Quebec, and Brownville Junction, the gateway to Irving-owned short lines Eastern Maine Railway and New Brunswick Southern.

Bullard couldn’t say whether the Irving short lines would make similar upgrades to boost track speed, but says Irving is fully committed to boosting the Port of Saint John because of the opportunity it presents to export the conglomerate’s own products. Among Irving’s businesses: paper, forest products, lumber, and frozen foods.

Much of the buzz around the CMQ acquisition recently has centered on international intermodal traffic to and from the Port of Saint John, which CP sees as a potential “Vancouver of the East.” CP, port officials, and terminal operator DP World aim to land transatlantic container service at Saint John. 

A dockworker strike in Montreal in August resulted in ships being diverted to Saint John, allowing CP to operate its first double-stack trains to and from the port.

CP last week hauled its first loads of Hyundai and Kia vehicles to the auto ramp at Saint John, Bullard says.

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