CN Rail beginning to recover in March from weak start to year, says interim CEO

A former BC Rail locomotive now owned by CN hauling tank cars near Fort St. John. Photo by Chris Newton

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The interim CEO of Canadian National Railway Co. says the railroad is beginning to recover from one of its worst Februarys on record.

Jean-Jacques Ruest told an investor conference Wednesday that its performance in March is improving from the start of the year when cold weather caused volumes to decrease and costs to rise.


He says train speeds are rising and revenue miles have started to turn positive, which will improve customer satisfaction.

The company has apologized for failing to keep grain shipments moving reliably by rail, and said it’s mobilizing more train cars and workers to clear the backlog.

Ruest says revenue growth in March won’t be enough to offset weakness in January and February, but the railway is heading in the right direction.

The Montreal-based railway hasn’t changed its guidance for the year because Ruest says there is still time to catch up.

It has ordered new locomotives and will have an extra 130 leased units within weeks.

It is also hiring 2,000 workers, including hundreds of conductors.

Ruest says that by the fourth quarter, CN should be back to where it was 12 to 18 months ago.

Ruest was appointed earlier this month to take over from Luc Jobin, who was dismissed after about two years as CEO.

The 23-year veteran CN Rail executive says the company’s board plans to take its time conducting a global search from within the rail industry and beyond to lead the country’s largest railway.

The successful candidate will create more energy in the company and have a sense of urgency to deliver on its long-term strategy.