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An update from Murray Hamilton

October 2018

One of the questions I'm asked most is, "how does CP prepare for winter?" It's an important question and one I wanted to tackle.

Last month we shared our winter plan with Canada's Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau. In it we detail the steps that CP is and has been taking to prepare for winter. Forecasts are constantly updated with the most recent specialized data, and this month we should have a more accurate prediction for what winter has in store. Severe winter weather can hamper rail operations: train lengths, speeds and weights have to be reduced under strict operating protocols as it gets colder. The reason for these changes to our operation in extreme cold is our continued commitment to safety. As in other modes of transportation, machinery just doesn't work as well below -25 degrees Celsius. These factors can play a significant role in reducing capacity and fluidity on the railway if winter is severe.

Every year the bulk of the questions regarding CP's readiness surrounds crew base and locomotives. While those are just two pieces to a complex puzzle, I can report that 100-plus remanufactured locomotives are now ready for service. We also have hundreds of new operations employees making their way through our training process to safely operate them.

Read our White Paper: Railroading in the Canadian Winter for more information on everything we do for safe winter operations.

Want to know what you can do? The CP Customer Safety Handbook gives clear direction on safe rail operations and can assist in educating your employees on the potential hazards of rail operations. It's a good resource to understand what your responsibilities are to ensure our employees can safely access your sites in winter.

In my last update (August 2018) the 2018-19 crop season was just getting underway. We had a large carryout from last year and this crop year was looking promising. While it still has great potential, we're off to a slow start getting crops off fields due to adverse weather hitting the prairies. Alberta has been hit particularly hard by early winter weather – harvest is only ~50 percent at this point, behind the five-year average of 80 percent. Manitoba and Saskatchewan are a bit further ahead with over 80 percent of the harvest completed. The weather has improved over the last 10 days and we know farmers are in the fields. The grain supply chain started a little choppy at first but it feels like we've found our collective supply chain rhythm. We'll continue to coordinate with our customers so that cars and trains are available when the grain gets to elevators.  

As we approach snowfall and potential colder temperatures, we must reiterate the need for 24/7 operations throughout the entire supply chain. It's positive to note that some of our Vancouver port partners have moved to 24/7 operations.

Switching gears I'd like to share our success at CP's Investor Day on October 4, held in Calgary. Joan Hardy, CP's Vice-President, Sales & Marketing, Grain & Fertilizers, spoke about CP's grain playbook for the future and was able to provide a sneak peak at the new high capacity hopper car. CP is currently taking delivery of these new cars and will add 500 cars to our fleet by the end of this year, and a total of 5,900 over four years. That is a huge investment by CP for our customers and I look forward to getting these cars into the fleet. Joan also spoke extensively about our new 8,500-foot high efficiency product (HEP), or HEP train, and what that will mean for CP's customers. Moving from the old 7,000-foot to 8,500-foot model is an immediate 20 percent train capacity increase. Coupled with the new high capacity hopper car this will generate 44 percent more grain capacity per train. Another important component of this new model is power-on. I talked in my last update about this new model and our sales team getting out there to talk to our customers about the value of the 8500-foot model. If you haven't already heard from your account manager about these services, make sure you reach out.

We will continue to keep you informed through Customer Station, your account managers and these updates. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at

Murray Hamilton
Assistant Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, Grain

August 2018

As we begin the new crop year, I think it's worth reflecting on the year we're finishing. 

Last September was our biggest-ever month for moving Canadian grain. Overall, we moved 1 percent more Canadian grain in 2017-18 than we did a year earlier, despite a challenging winter that affected the entire supply chain. On balance, the year was a success, achieved by working closely with you, our customers.

Looking ahead, we are almost at the most exciting point of the year for the grain supply chain: harvest. Leading up to this crucial point, we have spent countless hours internally assessing demand forecasts and developing our operating plan to ensure a successful fall shipping season. We have also met with our external partners from all points across the supply chain to better understand their plans and collaborate to move the crop safely and efficiently to market.

The 2018-19 crop-year promises to be another excellent year. It's still early, but considering what appears to be substantial carryout from last year, we are preparing for strong grain movement throughout the crop year. As always, we expect high demand in the fall season as crops are harvested. We are geared up for weekly fall programs of 5,500 unloads and 4,000 unloads during the winter season, with the annual Port of Thunder Bay closure. By the end of the summer we will have added more than 100 remanufactured locomotives to the CP fleet and hired more than 700 employees in various stages of the training process to safely operate them. It is important to note that our operating plan is sized to the available supply chain capacity, which includes in-country elevator capacity, port terminal capacity, and other facilities like canola crush and container stuffing operations.

For the upcoming crop year, CP is excited and ready to handle the strong demand levels as they materialize. You can read more about our detailed plan to move this year's crop in our July 31 letter to Minister Garneau.

With the additional locomotive power in the system we are well positioned to deliver for our customers this year and beyond.

Speaking of the future, it starts with the expansion from unit trains of 112 grain hopper cars of varying capacities to 8,500-foot-long unit trains consisting entirely of the  modern high-capacity hopper cars, which  are capable of carrying 10% more tonnes per car. Built here in Canada, these new hopper cars have a three-pocket design (versus four-pockets in older Government of Canada hopper cars) that is faster to load and unload than older models. An 8,500-foot train with the new hoppers will be able to fit up to 147 cars, making for a total train carrying capacity which is up to 44 percent higher than today's trains.

When I talk efficiency, I sometimes hear the question from shippers: What's in it for me? Well, there's a lot in it for shippers! Each train CP delivers to your elevator will carry away substantially more grain. You'll be able to load these trains at a faster rate. CP extends the option to leave locomotives at the elevator during loading so they're on site and ready to go when the train is loaded, what we call 'power on'. The three-pocket design of the new hopper cars will also improve efficiency on the terminal side, to the benefit of our port partners, shippers and the broader supply chain.

Altogether, you have a model for world-class efficiency in moving your commodities. It's an evolutionary step forward akin to the move from grain boxcars to hoppers, and the first unit-train-loading elevators, in decades past. My team is already talking with many of you about what it will take to handle 8,500-foot trains. If you're not already talking with us about it, I hope you'll reach out to your account manager. Power-on 8,500-foot grain trains are already running on CP's network.

In the right circumstances, the power-on system can help drive greater efficiencies within the supply chain – which benefits both CP and the shipper.

Success will depend on our ability to work together. For example, for the power-on model to work, we need our shippers to:

  • Load the empty train on arrival to the elevator
  • Provide CP with pre-notification of the train completed load time
  • Bill the loads immediately upon completion of train loading
  • Provide the elevator location for their next empty train

We'll be communicating more details directly to those of you that are interested in power-on, but I just want to emphasize the ways in which we'll have to coordinate to make this program a success. I believe we can do it together, and that faster train cycles will make this program a win-win.

I hope you share my excitement for the grain train of the future, and if you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to drop me a line at


Murray Hamilton
Assistant Vice-President, Sales and Marketing, Grain