CN revs up investment in B.C.

Company says some projects that target capacity issues will come online this fall

Sean Finn, executive vice-president of corporate services and chief legal officer for CN, told Greater Vancouver Board of Trade members that the railway company is committed to B.C.

On the heels of additional investment in B.C., the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) told Greater Vancouver Board of Trade business leaders on Monday that the company is committed to enhancing fluidity in Western Canada’s trade corridors.

“We recognized, as we came into 2018, that we had capacity issues on that part of the network,” said Sean Finn, executive vice-president of corporate services and chief legal officer for CN.

“Looking at how traffic is coming out of the Port of Vancouver and the Port of [Prince] Rupert, we were at capacity in some areas also in B.C. We had a bit of a challenge getting up to Prince George. Some of our customers we let down quite a bit in the course of the spring of this year.”

Earlier this month, CN announced that approximately 10% of its $3.4-billion capital spend this year will be put toward projects in B.C.

CN’s $340-million provincial investment includes four new and three extended track sidings between Prince Rupert and Jasper, Alberta. A siding extension on CN’s Vancouver-Edmonton corridor will be added north of Kamloops.

“You can have track, but all you need is one bottleneck, a bridge, and all of a sudden you eat up capacity,” said Finn. “We have picked a series of areas in B.C. where we’re going to quickly deploy.”

On Friday, the federal government committed to funding three major port and rail infrastructure projects in B.C. Under the National Trade Corridors Fund, government announced a $167-million investment that includes building 5.5 kilometres of track on the North Shore, and 9.4 kilometres of siding track along the south shore of Burrard Inlet. Both projects will be led by the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, with investment from CN and Canadian Pacific Railway.

A third project, led by CN with investment from the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, will see a 4.2-kilometre secondary track built in Vancouver, alongside CN’s existing Burrard Inlet line.

In a one-on-one interview with Business in Vancouver, Finn acknowledged that capacity will never be “solved,” but that CN’s recent commitments are a step in the right direction.

“If you want to be a trading nation, you have to move goods to market, and it takes a strong transportation system to do so,” he said.

“More will have to be done to make sure we have longer term resilience.”

Over the last five years, CN has invested more than $1.1 billion in B.C.

The company employs close to 2,400 in the province, where it operates just over 2,800 railroad route miles.

The company’s capital spend for 2018 marks a $700 million increase over 2017, and represents about 25% of CN’s gross revenue.