Train going through the plains
FEB 01, 2022

Distributed Braking Cars Help Keep Our Network Running Safely, Efficiently in Winter

Through the coldest winter conditions every year, our CN fleet of Distributed Braking Cars, or Air Cars, keep goods moving safely and with reliable service that customers expect.

The Air Cars are an important part of our CN Winter Plan that outlines the actions and innovations we have implemented to maintain our operations to meet customer needs and to operate safely and efficiently during these challenging months.

During colder months, it’s critical to supply a consistent flow of air through the brake lines of the train, an important concern in keeping our customers’ commodities moving during winter. The Air Cars, modified boxcars that contain air compressors and brake system-associated equipment, do exactly this.

Air Cars

An Air Car is positioned in the train to help supply consistent airflow through the brake lines and efficiently get brakes charged and trains moving in very cold conditions. This enables CN to maintain longer trains, unlocking capacity. CN has a waiver in Canada to run extra-long trains, thanks in part to the increased airflow that our Air Cars provide. In addition, Air Cars can be used instead of adding an additional locomotive, which can significantly reduce fuel consumption.

In 2006, CN started with 10 Air Cars. Today, CN has more than 100 Air Cars that are strategically deployed throughout Canada and the Midwestern U.S. during colder months. CN analyzes data from winter seasons to maximize the effectiveness of these cars, developing standards for air source configuration and location in trains. Our Air Cars have traveled more than five million miles since being put into service.

Most CN Mechanical shops are involved in maintaining Air Cars. Of note, in addition to maintenance work, every Air Car has been built or rebuilt at our Transcona Shops in Winnipeg.

“We have a great crew and work well together, with good peer-to-peer communication,” said Todd Hartman, Heavy Duty Mechanic at Transcona Shops. “We really want the program to succeed and know it’s making a difference.”