By Julie Gedeon

 CN is expanding on its environmental leadership as North America’s most fuel-efficient railway by making the best possible use of all of its existing resources. “I keep telling people that the solution is not always to buy new equipment and technology,” says Normand Pellerin, CN’s Assistant Vice-President for sustainability. “Look first at making what you already have to work as efficiently as possible for you.”

CN is using its existing satellite GPS system to make its trains run as efficiently as possible at all times. “We can see more precisely when trains will approach each other and can arrange for one of them to slowly coast into a long siding while the other one passes,” Pellerin explains. “By coasting rather than coming to a full stop, the locomotive that has pulled into the siding needs less fuel to resume its speed.”

The company will have spent a total of $155 million by the end of this year to build 26 longer sidings on the Edmonton-Prince Rupert corridor since 2004. The sidings accommodate the 3.6-kilometre (12,000-foot) trains put into service to handle the rising traffic on the corridor.

Sensors installed on each railcar deliver constant information about the car’s interior weight, current terrain and incline, as well as the wheel temperature and grip. “Data from each sensor help our computerized system to constantly adjust the locomotive’s power to the ideal one-to-one tonnage/horsepower ratio that’s most fuel-efficient,” Pellerin says. GPS- and sensor-monitoring have achieved a three to five per cent reduction in fuel consumption.

CN has also introduced rail lubrication systems to reduce the friction between freight-car wheels and the rails along curves. “Once the locomotive passes, a bit of grease is squirted onto the rails so that the cars travel more smoothly and require less energy from the locomotive to maintain a certain speed,” Pellerin says. The systems have been installed successfully in the railway’s B.C. South corridor and along the tracks formerly belonging to B.C. Rail.

Weather stations have been installed on all switch warmers on CN’s mainline between Montreal and Winnipeg. “By heating the switches only when it’s cold and humid enough for there to be a chance of freezing rain or snow, we’ve cut the amount of energy required to warm the switches by half,” Pellerin says.

Along with 66 new high-horsepower locomotives, CN is acquiring 96 second-hand engines that will be upgraded. “Again, you don’t necessarily have to buy everything new to minimize your environmental footprint,” Pellerin says. “Refurbished, these engines will be as good as new.”

CN is acquiring some alternating-current (AC) locomotives for the first time. The AC locomotive’s greater adhesion or train-pulling capabilities at low speeds will improve CN’s efficiency in hauling coal shipments along steep grades and sharp curves in northern British Columbia and Alberta. All 66 of the new locomotives are equipped with distributed power (DP) technology, a GE product that improves fuel efficiency through better train handling. Half of CN’s high-horsepower locomotive fleet will be equipped with DP technology by the end of 2013.

Less efficient locomotives will be retired or relegated to less demanding yard and local switching operations. “We’re also taking steps to minimize our diesel fuel consumption in the yards by using alternative energy sources, such as electricity and natural gas, for some equipment,” Pellerin says.

CN is also experimenting with alternative fuels for mainline engines. It retrofitted the diesel engines in two 3,000-horsepower locomotives to run on LNG, expecting that the retrofitted locomotives, using 90 per cent LNG, with 10 per cent diesel fuel for ignition, will reduce CO2 emissions by 30 per cent and NOX emissions by 70 per cent over a locomotive duty cycle. The natural gas fuelled locomotives are being tested on the 300-mile run North of Edmonton to Fort McMurray.

Making the best use of existing, new and refurbished equipment could not be done without having employees on side. “Over the past two years we’ve particularly focused on engaging our employees to become part of the solution by explaining the difference they can each make with their well-informed decisions and attention to details,” Pellerin says. “They have also been encouraged to think outside the box in making new suggestions.”

The latest measures, along with earlier initiatives that include new, cleaner locomotive engines, lighter aluminium railcars, and precision railroading to route shipments as directly and efficiently as possible, are keeping CN 12 to 16 per cent more fuel-efficient that other North American railways despite the keen efforts by competitors to catch up.