The recent cold snap caused numerous problems across a number of sectors including the grain transportation system.
Starting the second week in January temperatures started the deep dive as a cold arctic air mass covered most of the West and would stay in that position for a few days.
Temperatures dropped from the minus 20s to the mid-40s, resulting in new record low temperatures being recorded in some areas of the prairies.
David Przednowek, the assistant vice - president of grain for CN Rail says the bitter cold temperatures are not only hard on people but on power as well.
"When it does get this extreme there's a lot of stuff that happens. This is a steel-on-steel business, steel wheels on steel rail. You got locomotives trying to operate in extreme winter conditions. There's the people element, of course as well. Thinking about some of the wind chills getting down into the minus 50s. It's not only something that affects rail operations, obviously, but there were certainly customers along the line that had to shut down operations in terms of dealing with the extreme weather with their employees."
He points out that when it gets below -25 Celsius, it's kind of the tipping point on the railroad where CN through its winter plan starts implementing train length restrictions to maintain safe operations.
"It's all about air brake pressure and maintaining air brake pressure when it starts getting -25 and beyond, you start thinking about some of these trains that we're running that are two miles plus long. You got to pump air from the front of the train (from the locomotives in the front) all the way to the back end of that train. That's a long tail, so CN can mitigate the impact of the extreme cold on train length by using additional sources of air. This could either be having locomotives in the middle or the back of the train consistent as well as in the front that's called distributed power. The locomotives all talk to one another to make sure they can pump air. CN also has a fleet of 100 plus air cars which is basically a bright red box car with a big air compressor. It can be used in the middle or the back end of the train to pump air as well, and we use those particularly along the main line. So for each of those sources of air, we can maintain train length, something to the tune of like 500 feet. All that being, -40 is -40 and when you get into Tier 3 length, Tier 3 restrictions we start restricting operations overnight. "
Przednowek says all of this weather is very hard on people and power and that's going to have impacts on network fluidity.
He says right now they're in the recovery mode trying to work through the congestion.