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Looking Back at 2020

In a year of global change and challenges, CN continued to invest and deploy innovative technologies that helped ensure the safe and effective movement of our customers’ goods to market. As we look back at the year 2020, we have compiled a list of the milestones and accomplishments that CN was able to achieve with the support of our dedicated team of essential railroaders, as well as our supply chain partners and our customers. As we head into 2021 and focus on moving forward, we extend our sincerest thanks to our CN family, partners, and customers alike, whose ongoing commitment and collaboration make it possible for CN to fulfill our essential role to the economy and to the communities that we serve.

Some highlights of 2020:

Strategic Investments for Sustainable Growth

Despite financial impacts of the global pandemic, in 2020, CN maintained our capital investment levels, investing C$2.9B across the network. Not only do these investments build capacity for our customers’ growing demand, but they also increase our resilience during difficult operating conditions.

 Key capacity investment highlights include:

  • Numerous long siding additions, with heavy emphasis on the Edmonton to Prince Rupert corridor for increased capacity to and from the Port of Prince Rupert.
  • Multi-year capacity enhancements in both the Port of Vancouver and Port of Prince Rupert areas, matching new waterfront terminal capacity and enabling greater throughput.
  • Continuing to build on the significant double track work on our western Canadian network, bringing the total to a 140 new miles of double track completed in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
  • Major yard capacity expansion projects in key locations on the network with extended yard tracks for greater throughput and bypassing humping and switching operations.
  • New spillway bridge on the McComb subdivision near LaPlace, LA, bringing greater reliability and safety in this challenging geography.
  • Acquisition of final units in the purchase of 260 new high horsepower AC locomotives.
  • Acquisition of an additional 1,500 high capacity grain hoppers, bringing the total acquired to 2,500 since 2018.
  • Additional autonomous track inspection cars, for greater safety and track time efficiency.
  • 41 additional air distribution cars, for a total of 101 since 2019, for more reliable train operations during winter.
  • Upgrading and replacing approximately 445 miles of rail and 1.6 million rail ties.

Commitment to Safety

Throughout 2020, CN has continued to strengthen its commitment to safety and the establishment of an uncompromising safety culture to safeguard our employees, our communities, our partners and our customers. Some of our safety initiatives of 2020 are below:

Although the activities may have looked a bit different this year due to the pandemic, CN made sure to keep our essential messages of rail safety stronger than ever in recognition of Rail Safety Week. In compliance with all Covid-19 protocols, CN Police Service was out in communities as well as online to raise awareness about rail safety, including recording a video and podcast on the importance of obeying all rail safety signs and signals, and staying rail smart at all times.

CN also collaborated with the popular navigation app Waze to help keep drivers safe. The app utilizes the information provided by CN and other rail organizations to provide drivers with alerts when they are approaching railway crossings, in order to improve driver safety and awareness.

In 2020, CN also equipped all trucks in the CNTL fleet with ISAAC’s Telemetry Solution, delivered and installed in all trucks in under 30 days. ISAAC’s integrated mobile communication technology provides real time connectivity between drivers and company personnel, to optimize operations while helping to reduce hard manoeuvres and improve driving behaviours.

CN has always valued safety as being an essential and shared responsibility that includes the collaborative efforts of our railroaders, customers, communities, and partners. CN was proud to be able to recognize the efforts of 149 shippers with our 2019 Safe Handling Award as part of the Responsible Care® Program.

I would also mention the decrease in safety incidents at our customers sites and how grateful we are to those who have taken this seriously and implemented increased safety measures around their own tracks and rail operations.

  Technology as a Strategic Driver of Value

CN pioneered Precision Scheduled Railroading, and now has evolved it by driving technology and innovation into every aspect of our operations, while balancing the needs of employees, customers and stakeholders in order to create next generation of PSR: Digitalized Scheduled Railroading (DSR) operating model.

In 2020, CN deployed eight fully automated inspection cars utilizing the latest sensor and AI technology, to test and monitor real-time geometric track parameters without interrupting normal railroad operations. CN’s Autonomous Track Inspection Program completed Phase 1 of our FRA test program, resulting in 20 times greater inspection coverage and 23 times stronger safety performance. The actionable insights gained from CN’s ATIP cars also resulted in 85% reduction of geometric track conditions.

Throughout 2020, CN also continued to expand our Automated Inspection Portal program by developing more algorithms and leveraging them to automate an enhanced inspection process at track speed. The algorithms developed to date have helped allow for the detection of a significant number of defects not visible to the human eye, thereby improving both the quality of our inspections as well as the safety of our operations. While the use of the ATIP and Portal technology is increasing the safety of our operation, it is also creating more capacity as we cut out labour intensive manual processes which take up valuable track time.

In 2020, CN also launched the API Marketplace. With our ever-expanding suite of digital application programming interfaces, CN customers can now connect seamlessly with CN to track and trace their shipments using real time GPS technology, signalling a new era of innovation and business transparency aimed at helping our customers win in their markets.

CN ATIP - July 2020

 Driving a Sustainable Future

CN takes great pride in rail as a critical part of the climate solution, and continues to lead the rail industry with respect to fuel efficiency, consuming approximately 15% less fuel per gross ton mile of freight than the average of our Class 1 peers. In fact, CN delivered its best fuel efficiency ever in 2020.

In 2020, CN also made headway towards lowering emissions for first-mile last-mile deliveries, by signing a memorandum to order 50 zero-emission trucks from Lion Electric Co. These trucks will be tested across CN’s intermodal network. The use of these trucks will remove 100 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the road annually.

CN also joined more than 1,500 global organizations and became the first North American railroad to formally support the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) in 2020. CN proudly released its first TCFD report in November as a significant milestone in CN’s commitment to supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy. CN was also awarded a prestigious A score for Climate Change by CDP.

CN was also proud to be recognized as a sustainability leader by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI) for the ninth consecutive year and the DJSI North America Index for the 12th consecutive year.

 Growing Our Network and New Services

CN continues to grow our North American franchise through strategic partnerships, acquisitions, and investments in order to offer our customers more options to reach their end markets.

In 2020, CN announced a new intermodal rail service between Moncton and Halifax to drive value and growth in the Atlantic region as well as a new multimodal service from Chicago to Western Canada. CN also joined the Commtrex Transload Marketplace in order to provide multiple transload options for shippers and help facilitate quick and nimble decision-making.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, CN announced two new facilities. Our new CN terminal in New Richmond, WI, will provide direct CN Intermodal service to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The multipurpose facility will open in March 2021 and will include an automotive compound for finished vehicles.

CN also partnered with Alabama Export Railroad and Ray-Mont Logistics to begin the first phase of a new, innovative, high-tech logistics park in Mobile, AL. Expected to open in late 2021, the facility will provide customers with extensive export capacity to access Asian, Latin American, and European markets without warehousing costs or requiring double handling.

Chicago Multimodal Service

 Record Movements of Grain and Other Commodities

From farm to table, it takes a lot of people to move grain. We would like to thank farmers, grain companies, elevator staff, waterfront workers, as well as our own CN railroaders, for a landmark year of bringing unprecedented amounts of essential Canadian grain to market.

In 2020, CN set records for Canadian grain movement for ten consecutive months beginning in March 2020. In October, CN set an all-time supply chain record for Canadian grain movement by moving over 3.27 MMT of grain. Overall Canadian grain movement in 2020 via carload hit 32 million metric tonnes, which is 4.25 million metric tonnes, or 15%, ahead of the previous record set in 2018.

Containerized grain shipments direct from western Canada also hit record levels in 2020, with CN moving over 1.25 million metric tonnes, in addition to volumes shipped from eastern Canada.

CN also set a record in June of 2020 for exporting propane at AltaGas’ Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal in Prince Rupert. We are also handling very high volumes of lumber, potash and consumer goods through these same export gateways.

 CN in the Community

CN and CN employees are committed to making the communities in which we operate better places to live, work, and play. In 2020, CN continued its commitment to the communities that we serve through corporate giving, educational initiatives and collaboration.

CN made millions of dollars of donations to assist the small town grass roots and First Nations organizations across our network to meet their fundraising budgets during the pandemic. Some notable donations in 2020 included donating $10,000 to the National Native American Veterans Memorial in commemoration of Native American Heritage Month as well as Veterans Day in the US, as well as donating $10,000 to the Hazel Crest, IL Project Hero Initiative to support frontline workers. CN also partnered with PPE supplier MediMask Canada Inc. (a joint venture of the Moosomin First Nation of Saskatchewan) to help Northern BC’s Indigenous communities fight Covid-19 by providing them with a supply of 300,000 masks.

Through our Railroaders in the Community program and our employee and pensioner run CN Community Fund, CN employees and pensioners give generously of their time and money to support the communities where they work and live. Despite the pandemic, the CN Community Fund was able to meet the $2 million dollar target for our 2020 campaign, all of which directly supports local organizations and charitable initiatives.

Through CN Community Boards in cities like Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton and Winnipeg, CN puts funding decisions into the hands of local community members who know their community best. Our Community Boards continue to make a positive impact by helping support local, grassroots organizations with funding requests.

CN’s community giving and sponsorships have continued to make a difference in the lives of our community members and to empower young people in the communities that we serve. Notably, for the sixth year, CN has partnered with 4-H Canada to recognize four outstanding young people with the L.E.A.D Leadership Excellence Awards of Distinction scholarship. Each scholarship winner received $20,000 scholarship for higher education, and was paired with a mentor to support their ongoing growth and development.

  Celebrating CN’s ONE Team of Essential Railroaders

CN is powered by our committed team of essential railroaders whose commitment and dedication have kept essential goods moving throughout the challenges of the global pandemic.

It is CN’s people, in the field, in the office, and internationally, that make CN the industry leader that it is today. CN’s commitment to building diversity in the workplace was recognized in 2020, as CN was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers for the fourth consecutive year. CN was also recognized as one of Canada’s Top Employers in 2020 in recognition of CN’s employee programs and workplace policies.

Throughout the challenges of 2020, CN employees have worked hard for our customers and to give back to their communities by delivering the essential goods, as well as by donating their time and money to community organizations through CN’s Railroaders in the Community program and CN’s employee and pensioner run Community Fund, which has raised more than $19.1 million for Canadian charities since 2011.

CN was also proud that CN’s vice-president of Public and Government Affairs, Fiona Murray, made history as the first female chairperson of the Railway Association of Canada’s Board of Directors in 2020.


Looking back at the year 2020, we are extremely proud of our railroaders who continued to deliver essential goods. We are also sincerely thankful to our customers, our stakeholders, and our partners whose confidence and collaboration made it possible for us to fulfill our essential role and to achieve the successes outlined above.

We look forward to continuing this collaboration with our partners, customers, communities, and employees across our network. We know that together we can overcome any obstacle and make 2021 the best year yet as we continue to innovate, invest and grow our great franchise!