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CN begins major work on major intramodal facility

By David Lassen | January 7, 2022

Infrastructure work in 2021 included replacement of aging infrastructure, significant weather repairs

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Bilevel passenger train on concrete trestle with construction crane behind it
Bilevel passenger train on concrete trestle with construction crane behind it
A construction crane visible on the other side of the northbound City of New Orleans is removing a decommissioned wooden trestle over the Bonnet Carre Spillway on June 4, 2021. Completion of the new Bonnet Carre bridge was one of the year’s major accomplishments for Canadian National; demolition of the old bridge will be completed in 2022. (Bob Johnston)

PHOENIX — The start of construction on of a long-delayed intermodal facility will highlight Canadian National capital work in 2022, after the railroad completed several major projects in 2021.

Martita Mullen, the railroad’s senior manager, design and construction, provided a review of the 2021 work and preview of 2022 on Friday at the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association Conference.

Preliminary work began at the end of 2021 on the Milton, Ontario, Logistics Hub, a facility first proposed in 2015. It received environmental approval from Canadian officials early in 2021 [see “Canadian National’s proposed Toronto-area intermodal terminal wins government approval,” Trains News Wire, Jan. 25, 2021]. More site work will begin later in January, with main construction beginning this spring.

“The project was met with a lot of community resistance, which actually extended the permitting out for a very long time,” Mullen said. “… The last permit came in November, so as a result of that, we were able to start do some of the site layout, some of the wildlife relocation, as well as install the construction fencing.

“That facility will have three 12,000-foot tracks,” Mullen said. “It will also have two service tracks, and we’ll have two new main lines.” The project also includes a new gate facility, access roads, offices, and a mechanical facility. It is slated to begin operations in 2024.

Another new facility came on line in 2021, as the railroad completed its New Richmond, Wis., intermodal and auto facility, about 80 miles from the Twin Cities. That location includes five 1,400-foot tracks and two 4,000-foot sidings.

The year also saw the completion of two major rebuilds, at Chicago’s St. Charles Air Line and Louisiana’s Bonnet Carre Spillway bridge, an 11,000-foot structure near New Orleans.

Woman with glasses at microphone
Canadian National’s Martita Mullen, speaking Friday at the NRC Conference. (Trains: David Lassen)

The Chicago project saw bridges dating to 1899 replaced in 2020, with trackwork completed in 2021. “We did about 4,000 feet of track construction over the new bridges once they were in place,” Mullen said. “… There was a lot of coordination that was required, as you can imagine, with closing streets in the city of Chicago. … It’s a really tight corridor with a lot of residential on either side, so definitely a challenging project.”

The Bonnet Carre bridge was placed in service in November 2020, but construction continued into 2021. Demolition of the old bridge will come in the first quarter of this year.

“The old bridge had been in service for 86 years or so,” Mullen said. “… Now we have this new piece of the skyline as you head into New Orleans, and we’re definitely excited about that.”

Weather disruptions

Like other western railroads, CN faced major weather-related disruptions, first with June wildfires in British Columbia, followed by flooding problems in the same area in November. The fires took CN’s line between Vancouver and Kamloops, British Columbia, out of service for 13 days, largely because of the destruction of a key bridge. “A very, very challenging location to work in,” Mullen said. “It’s about 100 feet over water. The guys came up with a plan to work from both ends so we could meet in the middle, to take advantage of the opportunity to get as much done as possible.”

The same region was hit in November by record rainfall, damaging approximately 58 locations on the railroad. At one washout, she said, “we lost about a quarter of a million yards of material, so we had to go back and fill in this huge gorge that was created from these landslides. We were out of service … from about Nov. 14 to roughly Dec. 4. Even following that, we had to build a bridge. Because we kept seeing the heavy rains, we had to build a bridge so we wouldn’t keep seeing going out of service.”

In between, CN operations in the Southeast were struck in late August by Hurricane Ida, which disrupted four subdivisions. “It took about a week to get the track back in service just to get us moving,”  Mullen said, “but another couple weeks after that to get the full cleanup done.” Along with extensive signal, track, and bridge damage, workers also had to deal with some unwelcome wildlife. “Along with all that flooding comes all the alligators and the snakes and the nutria rats, as well. So not only are you fighting trying to get the tracks restored, but you have to try to stay away from the gators, too. Definitely some tough conditions.”

2022 outlook

CN had capital spending of about $3 billion in 2021. It is likely to be no more than that figure in 2022 under the “Full Speed Ahead” plan announced in September, which calls for capping capital spending at approximately 17% of revenue [see “Canadian National to boost profits, cut costs …,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 17, 2021].

Mullen said basic capital plans for 2022 call for 1.325 million new ties, 220 miles of new rail, an additional 50 miles of rail installation, a total of 117 bridge projects of varying size, and a series of stabilization and geotechnical projects.

For comparison, 2021 saw installation of 1.8 million ties, 323 miles of new rail, and 117 turnouts and 30 diamonds replaced.

12 thoughts on “CN begins major work on major intramodal facility

    1. Yup. I picked up on that one myself. Intermodal, or “logistics hub”, is a euphemism for semi-trailer traffic on the roads. (Local roads, not only the Hwy 401 Freeway.) Not necessarily a great neighbor. Isn’t there a prison in (or near) Milton? Who wants an intermodal terminal in addition?

      Now, transitioning to Chicago, I thought the St. Charles Airline was supposed to be removed. Any thoughts anyone? I hope our Chicago readers can expand on this one, what’s proposed and when.

    2. Great location for CN nice straight line, been buy it a lot, however not a lot of consideration for highway access, back road right through Milton to get to the 401 and even worse heading the other way to the QEW / 403

  1. Charles the removal of St. Charles airline was a pet project of the second Mayor Daley so that more apartments for rich people could be built and I believe has little operational impact on CN, now that it owns EJ&E, though CN would save on taxes I assume. The removal depends upon the completion of the Grand Crossing connection between the former Conrail NY line and IC on the southside of Chicago and would primarily benefit Amtrak. The GC project is part of the CREATE project which is well behind its goals and now well into its second decade.
    Given that Daley helped further bankrupt my beloved City of Chicago, the virtual bankruptcy of the state of Illinois, the fact that CN has pulled out of CREATE when it bought the EJ&E and given our nation’s general stinginess in investing in infrastructre, the GC project is only funded for its EIS phase 1. I believe it has only advanced that far because even though IL state govt is considered dysfunctional it finally advanced a major infrastructure bill a few years ago once a Democratic gov took over from a Republican gov who was quite obstructive. Hopefully the new federal infrastruture bill will help advance some passenger rail related projects, but the Grand Crossing list and removal of the St. Charles Airline would be lower on my list of priorities within the Chicago area let alone all of the country

    Finally with more emphasis of moving poeple across regions and not just into the city, removal of the Airline may be short cited.

    1. JACOB – Lots of issues in your post — It’s sad to see CREATE withering and maybe dying. Come to think of it wasn’t there a proposal to KEEP the airline for a long-term project to bring some Metra Burlington (or maybe other west side routes) trains into Millenium? That’s a project that would make a whole lot of sense. Once again, time and money needed, plenty of both. Could also work, given enough time and money, to bring Metra Electric trains into Union Station.

      In your post above I assume “NY” means “New York” as in the city or the state of New York, not the former railroad. The route is ex-PRR, not ex-NYC.

      Forgive my impatience, the GC connection has been proposed for the last 50 years, I’d like to see it happen in my lifetime, I don’t have another 50 years left.

    2. Jacob,

      I think the political situation in the Capitol (not the statehouse) had more impact on infrastructure spending in Illinois than your perception implies. The last GOP Governor had no issue with infrastructure, but he wanted property tax and public pension reform since the overspending of the General Fund was causing IDOT to go into a long term “maintenance mode”. With a majority of tax revenue tied up in what were essentially municipal payday loans, (thanks to the Speaker) it didn’t give a lot of latitude in the budget. You can thank the constitutional amendment that separated fuel taxes from the tyranny of the GF (and the aforementioned speaker) that has allowed Illinois to start infrastructure spending again.

      As for the StCAL, there was discussion of having it abandoned and torn out to please the southside yuppies. But that essentially died when a politically connected developer announced “Grand Central” with the idea of using it as a transit funnel. While the concept is dubious as a transit pipeline, people living in the area need to remind themselves that they chose to purchase elevated properties next to an elevated rail line.

    3. Since we’re on the CREATE subject (and for those of us vaguely familiar with the area) after the 75th St. project is done how about build a connection from the former CWI to the former IC in the Kensington Marsh area? This would obviate (at least in the short term) the Grand Crossing project allowing a straight shot out of Union to the IC.

  2. @Charles and @John

    Thanks for your follow-up comments to my reply to Charles. I learned a lot I had not realized that there had been proposals to use the Airline for intraregional transit as I had mentioned in my last paragraph

    To clarify, I did mean New York city or state and not the railroad. Given that the rival railroads, PRR and NYCentral were pretty much parallel and next to each other from Englewood Union Station to the Indiana line if not through Gary, IN and what is now left is a mixture (I think– though apparently more PRR than NYCentral), I did not want to be more specific.

    @Charles Hopefully CREATE will be reinvigorated at least a bit thanks to the federal infrastructure bill and certainly was a bit by the Illinois infrastructure bill I referred to. But agree this is taking far to long. Had to laugh about your comment re GC Crossing ever happening in your lifetime. I have been saying that for the last 10 years and I think I am 10 to 20 years younger than you Charles, based on what you recall about railroads in prior posts

    Finally Anybody know how many freights use the St. Charles Airline each day? It certainly is a good alternate route in case something happens to the former EJ&E

  3. Intramural? First sentence has two prepositions “on” “of”
    We’re is the editing staff? And a recent article referred to the Spokane, Portland & Seattle as the Spokane, Seattle & Pacific.
    Let’s get the bar raised back up, eh guys?

  4. Intramodal? First sentence has two prepositions “on” “of”
    We’re is the editing staff? And a recent article referred to the Spokane, Portland & Seattle as the Spokane, Seattle & Pacific.
    Let’s get the bar raised back up, eh guys?

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