Innovation Under Way as Railway Aims to Cut Costs

CALGARY, Alberta – Canadian Pacific Railway in December became the first railway in Canada to operate intermodal freight trains with mid-train remote-control locomotives, the company said.

Mimicking the control inputs of engineers in leading locomotives, the remote-control units enable CPR to run intermodal trains approaching three kilometers in length through the winter when they were previously shortened because of air-pressure loss in colder temperatures. Since 1995 all new main-line locomotives ordered by CPR have been equipped to operate in leading or remote-control configuration.

Introduction of remote-control locomotives is a cornerstone of the railway’s campaign to completely transform its intermodal service, which moves consumer goods in containers and truck trailers on rail cars. The railway is also reconstituting its intermodal fleet, putting in service 5,500 new cars that can carry double-stacked containers. 

With the new cars, CPR will have a standardized fleet capable of handling any size of container in any load configuration, and will do away with older cars that are less flexible.

The net result will be an estimated 28-per-cent increase in containers per train and 16-per-cent decrease in intermodal train starts, creating railway network capacity for more traffic. CPR expects to reduce its overall intermodal rail car fleet by about 1,300 cars without losing capacity, while lowering train-crew costs. Service reliability is expected to improve, especially during the more challenging winter period.

“Over the past several years we have significantly increased the capacity in our intermodal facilities and expanded track sidings to accommodate longer trains,” said Rob Ritchie, President and Chief Executive Officer of CPR. “Now the next critical steps – phasing in remote-control locomotives and introducing a new rail car fleet – are under way as we take CPR’s intermodal service to a new level.”

About 2,000 of the new intermodal cars will be in service by the end of this month. The remainder will arrive in 2004.

CPR pioneered the use of remote-control locomotive technology in its western-Canada coal trains in the 1970s, making it possible to safely operate trains through the mountains at lengths previously thought impossible. The advent of high-capacity trains was a key development in helping Canada’s coal industry overcome its competitive disadvantage of being located a long way from ocean shipping ports.

CPR is now adapting the same concept to the intermodal market, the fastest-growing railway market and one that is highly service-sensitive.

The design of CPR’s new, high-power alternating current locomotives allows them to be placed at the head-end and anywhere else in the train. During train operations, the controls of locomotives at each position are linked through data telemetry, giving the head-end crew full command at all times.

Placing a locomotive in a remote-control position distributes tractive effort and produces performance benefits not unlike those of all-wheel drive in a highway passenger vehicle. It also boosts air pressure to ensure sufficient braking power along the entire length of the train in freezing temperatures. 

“CPR was the first North American railway to use containers in domestic intermodal service while everyone else was still using trailers,” Ritchie said. “We continue to look for ways to be innovative in the intermodal business. Our latest move will position CPR for continued growth in this important market.”

CPR serves both the domestic and international intermodal markets. In the domestic market, goods move in containers and trailers that are transferred between rail cars and trucks. In the international market, goods move in overseas containers that are transferred between ships, rail cars and trucks.  Last year, intermodal generated almost $900 million of CPR’s $3.5 billion in freight revenue.

In partnership with the trucking industry, CPR offers intermodal freight shippers the best of highway and railway technology over long-haul intercity routes – the unrivalled fuel economy of a freight train combined with the dock-to-dock flexibility of a truck. About 70 per cent of the Canadian population lives within a 160-kilometre drive of CPR’s major intermodal terminals.