MAR 29, 2023

Every Small Change Counts

Pilot project retrofits CN vehicles for alternative fuel

EcoConnexions Champions- Derek Gaston

Making small changes in our everyday operations, with a little creative thinking, can have an immediate impact. Led by Derek Gaston, Terminal Manager, Intermodal/Multimodal Operations at Taschereau Yard inMontreal, CN launched a pilot project in the Spring of 2021 to test the use of propane as an alternative fuel in fleet vehicles.

“We were looking for ways to improve our trucking fleet as a team, so we researched ways to retrofit two vehicles to help CN reduce its impact on the environment in the short term,” says Derek.

The team reached out to companies that had already retrofitted their fleets through conversion systems that enable gasoline vehicles to also operate on propane. Most kits add fuel-specific supply lines and storage components, and then recalibrate the engine or make software adjustments to the electronic engine control system.

Transforming a Ford F-150 and a Ford Explorer into hybrid models that could consume propane took less than three days. Liquefied petroleum gases like propane burn more efficiently and completely than gasoline. That means tailpipe emissions are mostly carbon dioxide and water – and virtually no soot, creating a healthier environment for drivers and communities. Because propane is a much denser fuel, vehicles need less of it to operate.

“We put a big propane tank in the back of the Ford F-150’s bed, which took up about one foot of space. The rest of the kit is stored underneath the hood and controlled by two different computers,” explains Derek.

The vehicles start up on gas until the propane system warms up and then seamlessly switch to propane. A button installed on the dashboard allows drivers to manually change from propane to gas, and a pressure gauge shows how much is left in the tank before it switches back to gasoline.

It’s a safe, cost-effective way to improve our vehicles while also saving money. Derek’s team has already saved thousands of dollars in fuel costs on the Ford F-150 alone.

“I got 10,000 kilometers off one gas tank, which is amazing,” says Derek. “Safety is always our primary concern, and we discovered that propane tanks are 20 times more puncture-resistant than gasoline tanks.”

The team is looking to expand the pilot project in 2023.

“I just got a brand-new Ford F-150 work vehicle, and I'll be doing a retrofit on it, too,” he says.

Other members of the project team include:

  • Nicolas Capano, Fleet Management Maintenance, Montreal, QC
  • Thomas Hennig, Consumer Product Supply Chain Trucking IM Network Operations, Edmonton, AB
  • Tony Karlzen, Fleet Management Operations Garages and Maintenance Planning, Brampton, ON
  • Keyur Patel, Fuel Management, Montreal, QC
  • Carlos Perez, Fleet Management, Montreal, QC
  • Michael Poerio, Fleet Management Asset Management, Harvey, IL
  • David Thomas, Strategy, Brampton, ON

CN’s EcoConnexions Employee Engagement program – a partnership with Earth Rangers – drives sustainability across CN's network by empowering employees and their families to conserve energy, reduce waste, and improve housekeeping.

Visit our Delivering Responsibly section to learn more about sustainability at CN.