By Alex Binkley

Canada’s two major railways have quietly gone about their business in the past year turning in strong financial performances and building up their networks even as economic storm clouds gather. They overcame wicked winter weather to record a record grain haul for the crop year ending July 31. As of September, they were still enjoying overall traffic increases of about two percent compared to the same period last year while American railroads were suffering traffic drops.

CN’s and CP’s financial and operating results for the second quarter ended June 30 were both records. CN revenues increased by nine per cent to $3.96 billion while CP rose 13 per cent to $1.98 billion compared to last year. The growth in grain shipments came despite the restrictions on Canadian canola exports to China. CN moved more than 27 million tonnes, bettering its previous best of 26 million tonnes set in 2016-2017. CP hauled 26.8 million tonnes breaking its record set last year.

CN, which has been celebrating its 100th anniversary, went into the second half of the year optimistic “while maintaining our vigilance on costs,” said President and CEO JJ Ruest. “Our focus on delivering profitable growth and advanced technologies to modernize our scheduled railroading model is expected to continue driving long-term value creation for our shareholders.”

Keith Creel, CP’s President and CEO, said the railway has seen revenue growth across every line of business. “As has been proven time and again, our operating model can perform well in all economic conditions and we will remain disciplined in controlling our costs and doing what we said we would do. Our strategy for sustainable, profitable growth is working and we look forward to a strong finish to 2019.”

Among CN’s business building developments this year are agreements to extend commercial relationships with container lines Evergreen and Cosco. As well, ZIM began a weekly call at Prince Rupert’s Fairview Container Terminal.

CP announced a three-year agreement to handle all Yang Ming’s containers through Vancouver starting Jan. 1, 2020 as well as an extension of its long-term agreement with Hapag-Lloyd covering the ports of Montreal and Vancouver. The moves will benefit all of CP’s container movements in and out of the Deltaport Global Container Terminal.

In October, CN will launch a new intermodal service in partnership with CSX connecting its greater Montreal and Southern Ontario network with the ports of Philadelphia and New York-New Jersey along with the New York City metropolitan area. CN also acquired CSX’s line between Valleyfield and Woodard, N.Y., opening new freight possibilities.

Federal infrastructure support of $153.7 million was awarded to Port of Prince Rupert for several projects including the building of a double track rail bridge across the Zanardi Rapids to increase rail capacity in and out of the port. Other projects include additional rail capacity for bulk and container facilities on Ridley Island and better container handling facilities in other parts of the port.

Meanwhile, a $20 million contribution from the National Transportation Corridors Fund will enable CN to twin about 5.6 kilometres of track near Abbotsford, B.C. the last section of single-track rail line leading into the port of Vancouver. That development will reduce bottlenecks and improve capacity and fluidity to the port’s facilities.

CN also signed a new multiyear agreement with General Motors for the transportation of finished vehicles and assembly parts. GM will also be the first customer to use CN’s new automotive compounds in Vancouver and in Minneapolis.

CP opened its new Vancouver Automotive Compound (VAC) on 19 acres of CP-owned land adjacent to its Vancouver Intermodal Terminal for North American made motor vehicle distribution in British Columbia, northern Washington State and parts of Alberta, as well as vehicles imported through the port of Vancouver. The facility will be able to handle 168,000 vehicles annually.

With the Deltaport Rail Expansion Project now complete, CP and its customers will continue to benefit from increased capacity and production. Since 2016, CP has steadily increased its market share at Deltaport and will now become the largest rail provider at the terminal. CP says its intermodal franchise has the lowest on-dock dwell and best on-time performance at the port of Vancouver, ensuring faster end-to-end transits for shippers.

CP has deployed a new yard logistics system that automates yard processes and supports real-time inventory reporting to give customers better visibility of their shipments. It also strengthens CP’s damage prevention processes by enabling immediate uploading of inspection images. This new system was introduced in Vancouver and is being rolled out to all CP automotive compounds.

CN also made senior executive level changes with David Trent joining the railway as Vice-President and Chief Digital Officer to head an initiative to modernize its scheduled railway system. Bob Reilly was appointed Executive Vice-President and CEO while Michael Foster was promoted to Executive Vice President and Chief Information and Technology Officer.

Mark Redd is the new CP Executive Vice-President of Operations. He joined CP in 2013 and has worked in a number of different senior operating roles, including most recently as Senior Vice-President, Operations, Western Region. Tracy Miller has been appointed Senior Vice-President, Operations, Eastern Region and Greg Squires now is the Vice-President, Operations, Western Region. Both will report directly to Redd. “As we advance in our precision scheduled railroading evolution, the importance of developing and empowering people cannot be overstated,” Keith Creel said.

CP also announced that Chad Rolstad, Vice-President of Human Resources, will add Chief Culture Officer to his title and James Clements, who has been with CP for more than 20 years, will become Senior Vice-President Strategic Planning and Technology Transformation. CP’s Vice-President and Chief Information Officer Mike Redeker will report to Clements.

CP joined the Blockchain in Transport Alliance (BiTA) which is producing blockchain standards that allow for interoperability between participants in the global supply chain.

Blockchain is an open, extensible platform capable of sharing shipping events, messages and documents across all the actors and systems in the supply chain ecosystem. It uses cryptography to ensure that network participants see only the parts of the ledger that are relevant to them, and to ensure that transactions are secure, authenticated and verifiable.

With nearly 500 members from freight, transportation, logistics and affiliated industries, BiTA is focused on education, advocacy, networking and commercial outcomes around blockchain and other emerging technologies.