CN Hopper Car Fleet
SEP 28, 2020

CN and Hopper Car Fleet Innovation

CN has a multi-pronged approach to the hopper car fleet for bulk grain – with fits for customers small and large

CN’s approach to fleet composition for the movement of bulk grain has fundamentally changed over the past five years. What was once a fleet dominated by leased and owned CN-supplied hoppers is now much more diverse. It includes customer-supplied high capacity hoppers integrated into CN’s common pool, brand new CN hopper cars, and high capacity, customer-controlled private cars. It doesn’t matter to a producer whether it’s a CN or a private hopper or hopper being spotted at an elevator – those hoppers are making space for more grain to be delivered – and a tonne delivered is a tonne paid for.

Steady Growth in the Car Spotting Program in Western Canada

CN’s 2020-21 Grain Plan included guidance on CN’s maximum sustainable supply chain capacity for bulk grain movement for CN-supplied hoppers - 5,800 hoppers per week outside of winter and 4,500 per week in winter. If we are able to deliver more, we will. And the size of the spotting program that CN delivers on a weekly basis has kept up with the percentage increase in the size of western Canadian grain production.

Private hoppers moving bulk grain are in addition to CN-supplied hoppers. What was once 10 or 20 private cars per week has increased to 1000+ cars per week at times. CN’s maximum sustainable supply chain capacity for bulk grain movement for customer-controlled private hoppers for 2020-21 is 950 cars per week outside of winter and over 750 cars per week during winter. The shift to private cars – in corridors where it is operationally efficient to do so - is a fundamental change in how customers can secure car supply to move grain on CN in western Canada. And a large segment of this car supply is comprised of new generation, high capacity cars.


CN Maximum Sustainable Capacity
Outside of Winter — Bulk Grain

Distribution of Loop-Tracks Elevators in Western Canada
Intermodal truck

CN Commercial Car Supply Agreements

For most grain movement in western Canada, customers place orders for CN-supplied hoppers, and most of these orders are tied to commercial car supply programs. A portion of the CN pool is made up of customer-supplied jumbo hopper cars that CN integrates into its common pool. The customer receives priority car supply based on the total number of cars supplied and the cycle time associated with the lanes those cars are moving in. Besides ensuring priority car supply, especially in times when demand for hopper cars tends to exceed end-to-end supply chain capacity, this program is inclusive – minimum 25-car block shipments – allowing smaller players to secure car supply. Participants don’t need to own country elevators to participate. Car supply is tradable in the market and CN and the customer each have commercial, reciprocal obligations. It is a win-win approach that has grown in popularity since it was first introduced in the 2014-15 crop year.

The Next Generation of High Efficiency Hopper Cars

In August 2018, CN announced the acquisition of 1,000 high capacity, new generation hopper cars to be built at National Steel Car in Hamilton, ON. These 55 foot, 8 inch long hoppers have a capacity of 5,431 cubic feet, compared to today’s standard jumbo hopper car at 5,150 cubic feet and 58+ feet. In late July 2020, CN announced the acquisition of another 1,500 new high-capacity hopper cars for delivery during the 2020-21 crop year. CN will start taking delivery of these cars this fall and will have most of them delivered by early 2021.

Higher capacity means more tonnes of lighter loading commodities like canola, barley, and oats can be loaded in these cars before they cube out, so more tonnage moved with every car spot. And don’t forget these cars are shorter as well, so more cars can fit into the same amount of track capacity. It all adds up to more capacity to move more grain, especially when it wants to move the most after harvest into early spring.

G3 Railcar

For the 2020-21 crop year, CN will run a number of sets of these new high capacity cars as truly dedicated train sets committed to customers and continuously cycling during the crop year. Customers can expect to receive the same set of cars back for the next load for every trip.

Looking Ahead

CN’s innovative approaches to hopper car fleet supply and management have translated into stronger grain movement, and contributed to CN’s record grain volume in the 2019-20 crop year. Over the past four crop years, thanks to the wide variety of fleet solutions that customers are able to utilize, average tonnage shipped per car on CN out of western Canada has increased by over three metric tonnes, or over three per cent. Moving more tonnage per car means moving more tonnage during peak hopper car demand. That means more grain getting delivered to country elevators. Customers have multiple commercial tools that they can utilize with CN to secure priority car supply and cover their shipping requirements. The future is bright for the end-to-end grain supply chain on CN.

For further information about CN grain and hopper car fleet innovation or to start shipping grain by rail, please contact David Przednowek .