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Rail News Home Canadian Pacific

December 2013

Rail News: Canadian Pacific

Canadian Pacific transports titanic transformers from Minnesota port to Alberta power line project


By Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor

Canadian Pacific long has transported heavy dimensional freight through its Canadian Pacific Logistics Solutions (CPLS) subsidiary. But the railroad hasn’t before committed to taking on as many pieces of oversize equipment, let alone transporting them in a condensed time period, as it has for customer Fracht USA.

A logistics services provider for a large power transmission line project in Alberta, Canada, Fracht USA approached CP in summer about a contract to transport 16 huge electrical transformers, each one measuring 34 feet long, 14 feet wide and 17 feet high, and weighing 325 tons.

The oversize equipment needs to travel 1,200 miles from the Port of Duluth, Minn. — where German manufacturer Siemens shipped them via the Port of Antwerp between mid-July and early December — to four points in Alberta. Fracht USA’s condition: All 16 transformers needed to be transported in a six-month period between October 2013 and March 2014 to comply with the construction schedule for the power line, which will run from north of Edmonton to south of Calgary.

"They said we would get 100 percent of the business if we could put the move together,” says David Walker, director of sales-CPLS carload.

It helped that CP offers the widest clearance of any railroad from the Lake Superior port to western Canada, including Alberta, he says. The Class I has expanded its right of way to accommodate 15-foot clearances.

But pulling such a specialized move together requires a proper train configuration, and designing one typically takes three to six months, says Walker. The configuration plan CPLS developed ensures the transformer moves will have the least impact on CP’s network, he says. Dimensional loads are only moved during daylight hours for safety precautions, so the configuration plan stipulates where trains are staged at night.

As transformer moves draw closer, planning becomes more tactical, says Walker.

“We determine what the [network] capacity is and what other trains will meet the special train, such as grain or potash trains,” he says.

CP divided the Fracht USA moves into four special trains carrying either two or four transformers. Similar to premium intermodal trains, the special trains have priority along the network, and any other trains that meet up with them must move onto a siding to be passed.

Two of the trains already have reached their destinations within the planned seven-day transit time. Another one is scheduled to depart right before or after Christmas and the last one is slated to leave in late January or February, depending on the weather. The yuletide departure will mark another first for CPLS, says Walker.

“We haven’t moved four pieces of equipment like this in a special train before,” he says Walker.

Specialized rail car for special train
The moves already completed involved two existing 16-axle rail cars, while the upcoming departures will incorporate two new 16-axle cars owned by Fracht USA. Built by Kasgro Rail Corp. and delivered in September, the new KRL16800-series cars will be making their virgin movement, says Walker. The cars are designed to accommodate heavy and wide equipment.

Lake Superior Warehousing Co. Inc., a marine terminal operator that leases the Port of Duluth’s only breakbulk terminal, is responsible for loading the transformers onto the specialized 16-axle cars.

“There are lots of dimensional issues. Overall, there needs to be attention to detail, from the securement/tie downs to all the required permits,” says Lake Superior Warehousing President Jonathan Lamb. “There’s limited height and width, so we need to make modifications on how the transformers are loaded.”

The company previously offloaded the transformers from ships and is responsible for storing them in a warehouse until they’re transported by rail. The port’s rail partners — which also include BNSF Railway Co., CN and Union Pacific Railroad — and superior clearances in the greater region have helped Lake Superior Warehousing specialize in handling dimensional and heavy-lift project cargoes, says Lamb.

Dimensional freight is something the port excels in, as well, says Ron Johnson, the Duluth Port Authority’s trade development director. The Duluth facility is the No. 1 volume port on the Great Lakes and the nation’s second-largest dry bulk port.

In 2011, the Railway Industrial Clearance Association ranked Duluth first among ports that handle dimensional cargoes, which “meant a lot” because the ranking is based on votes from shippers and railroads, says Johnson.

“We are proud of our track record with it, and we expect more [of this freight] going forward,” he says.

Last year, the port handled large steam and turbine equipment for Mitsubishi that CP moved to Calgary on two special trains. Now, the port is working on a move of 12 pressure vessels for the oil industry that will be transported to Edmonton via BNSF and CN, says Johnson. The train is scheduled to depart by year’s end.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.