Grain handle helps CN to record first-quarter volume

A CN locomotive near Jasper, Alta. (Photo courtesy CN)

Canadian National Railway reports moving more Prairie grain in its first quarter than at the same time last year, despite “more demanding winter conditions” compared to 2016.

Montreal-based CN on Monday reported net earnings of $884 million on overall revenues of $3.206 billion for the quarter ending March 31 (Q1), up from $792 million on $2.964 billion in the year-earlier Q1.

“We delivered record first-quarter volumes, including a 14 per cent increase in western Canadian grain tonnage moved over our network, despite a return to more demanding winter conditions versus last year,” CN CEO Luc Jobin said in a release.

Citing “a strong start in Q1 and an increased volume outlook for the rest of the year,” he announced a revised outlook for fiscal 2017, aiming for adjusted diluted earnings per share of $4.95 to $5.10.

CN said its higher Q1 revenue was “mainly attributable” to higher volumes of Canadian and U.S. grain, frac sand, coal exports, overseas intermodal traffic, and finished vehicles, along with higher freight rates and applicable fuel surcharges, offset partly by a stronger loonie’s impact on U.S. dollar-denominated revenues.

Out of 1.37 million carloads moved in the quarter, up from 1,26 million in the year-earlier Q1, CN reported moving 164,000 carloads in its grain and fertilizer segment, up from 146,000 in the previous Q1.

The railway booked Q1 grain and fertilizer revenues of $607 million, up from $522 million in its 2016 Q1, for revenue per carload of $3,701, up from $3,575.

Among its assumptions for its 2017 outlook, CN said it still assumes the 2017-18 grain crops in both Canada and the U.S. will be “in line with their respective five-year averages.”

In its release Monday, CN noted it has boosted its 2017 capital program by $100 million, to $2.6 billion, of which $1.6 billion will go to track infrastructure. The additional funds, CN said, are earmarked for 22 high-horsepower locomotives and “other projects to support growth.” — Network

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