The Canadian National Railway (CN; AAR reporting marks CN, CNA, CNIS, GTW, CV, CVC, CVQ, IC, CEDR, CC, WC, AC, DTI, DWP) is a Canadian Class I railway operated by the Canadian National Railway Company headquartered in Montreal, Quebec.
CN is the largest railway in Canada, in terms of both revenue and the physical size of its rail network and is currently Canada's only transcontinental railway company, spanning Canada from the Atlantic coast in Nova Scotia to the Pacific coast in British Columbia. It also has extensive trackage in the central United States along the Mississippi River valley from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
The railway was referred to as the Canadian National Railways (CNR) between 1918 and 1960 and as Canadian National/Canadien National (CN) from 1960 to present.
The Canadian National Railway is a public company with 22,000 employees and market capitalization of 21 billion USD in 2008.
The Canadian National Railways (CNR) was created between 1918 and 1923, comprising several railways that had become bankrupt and fallen into federal government hands, along with some railways already owned by the government. In 1995, the federal government privatized CN. Over the next decade, the company expanded significantly in the United States, purchasing Illinois Central Railroad and Wisconsin Central Transportation, among others. Now primarily a freight railway, CN also operated passenger services until 1978, when they were assumed by VIA Rail. The only passenger services run by CN after 1978 were several mixed trains (freight and passenger) in Newfoundland, and a couple of commuter trains on CN's electrified routes in the Montreal area. The Newfoundland mixed trains lasted until 1988, while the Montreal commuter trains are now operated by Montreal's AMT.
In response to public concerns fearing loss of key transportation links, the Government of Canada assumed majority ownership of the near bankrupt Canadian Northern Railway (CNoR) on September 6, 1918, and appointed a "Board of Management" to oversee the company. At the same time, CNoR was also directed to assume management of Canadian Government Railways (CGR), a system comprised of the Intercolonial Railway of Canada (IRC), National Transcontinental Railway (NTR), and the Prince Edward Island Railway (PEIR), among others. On December 20, 1918, the federal government created the Canadian National Railways (CNR) through a Privy Council order as a means to simplify the funding and operation of the various railway companies. The absorption of the Intercolonial Railway would see CNR adopt that system's slogan The People's Railway.
Another Canadian railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (GTPR), encountered financial difficulty on March 7, 1919, when its parent company Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) defaulted on repayment of construction loans to the federal government. The federal government's Department of Railways and Canals took over operation of the GTPR until July 12, 1920, when it too was placed under the CNR.
Finally, the bankrupt GTR itself was placed under the care of a federal government "Board of Management" on May 21, 1920, while GTR management and shareholders opposed to nationalization took legal action. After several years of arbitration, the GTR was absorbed into CNR on January 30, 1923. In subsequent years, several smaller independent railways would be added to the CNR as they went bankrupt, or it became politically expedient to do so, however the system was more or less finalized following the addition of the GTR.
Canadian National Railways was born out of both wartime and domestic urgency. Railways, until the rise of the personal automobile and creation of taxpayer-funded all-weather highways, were the only viable long-distance land transportation available in Canada for many years. As such, their operation consumed a great deal of public and political attention. Many countries regard railway networks as critical infrastructure (even to this day) and at the time of the creation of CNR during the continuing threat of the First World War, Canada was not the only country to engage in railway nationalization.
In the early 20th century, many governments were taking a more interventionist role in the economy, foreshadowing the influence of economists like John Maynard Keynes. This political trend, combined with broader geo-political events, made nationalization an appealing choice for Canada. The Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 and allied involvement in the Russian Revolution seemed to validate the continuing process. The need for a viable rail system was paramount in a time of civil unrest and foreign military intervention.
Claims of unfair competition from Canadian Pacific as well as pressure on the government to create a public broadcasting system similar to the British Broadcasting Commission led the government of R.B Bennett (who had been a corporate lawyer with Canadian Pacific as a client prior to entering politics) to pressure CNR into ending its on-train radio service in 1931 and then withdrawing from the radio business entirely in 1933. CNR's radio assets were sold for $50,000 to a new public broadcaster, the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission, which in turn became the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1936.
Canadian National Hotels was the CNRs chain of hotels and was a combination of hotels inherited by the CNR when it acquired various railways and structures built by the CNR itself. The chain's principal rival was Canadian Pacific Hotels.
Regardless of the political and economic importance of railway transportation in Canada; there were many critics of the Canadian government's policies in maintaining CNR as a Crown corporation from its inception in 1918 until its privatization in 1995. Some of the most scathing criticism came from the railway industry itself, namely the commercially successful Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) which argued that its taxes should not be used to fund a competitor. Some argue that the CPR could afford to make this criticism, having been itself the child of government and recipient of untold wealth by virtue of land and resource grants, as well as its position as a monopoly from its completion in 1885 until the CNoR started operations on the Prairies at the turn of the century.
As a result of history and geography, CPR served larger population centres in the southern prairies, while the CNR's merged system served as a de-facto government colonization railway to serve remote and underdeveloped regions of Western Canada, northern Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritimes.
Also, CN was disadvantaged by being constituted from a hodge-podge of bankrupt rail systems that were not intrinsically viable, as they seldom had the shortest route between any major cities or industrial centres; to this day, CN has many division points far from significant industries or traffic sources. The only notable exception to this sorry state of affairs is the former Grand Trunk mainline between Montreal and Chicago.
The company also became a convenient instrument of federal government policy from the operation of ferries in Atlantic Canada, to assuming the operation of the narrow-gauge Newfoundland Railway following that province's entry into Confederation, and the partnership with CPR in purchasing and operating the Northern Alberta Railways.
CNR was considered to be competitive with CPR in several areas, notably in Central Canada, prior to the age of the automobile and the dense highway network that grew in Ontario and Quebec. The former GTR's superior track network in the Montreal–Chicago corridor has always been a more direct route with higher capacity than CPR's. CNR was also considered a railway industry leader throughout its time as a Crown corporation in terms of research and development into railway safety systems, logistics management, and in terms of its relationship with labour unions.
From the creation of CNR in 1918 until its recapitalization in 1978, whenever the company posted a deficit, the federal government would assume those costs in the government budget. The result of various governments using CNR as a vehicle for various social and economic policies was a subsidization running into billions of dollars over successive decades. Following its 1978 recapitalization and changes in management, CN (name changed to Canadian National Railway, using the shortened acronym CN in 1960) started to operate much more efficiently, by assuming its own debt, improving accounting practices to allow depreciation of assets and to access financial markets for further capital. Now operating as a for-profit Crown corporation, CN reported a profit in 11 of the 15 years from 1978 to 1992, paying $371 million in cash dividends (profit) to the federal government during this time.
CN also divested itself during the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s of several non-rail transportation activities such as trucking subsidiaries, a hotel chain (sold to CPR), real estate, and telecommunications companies. The biggest telecommunications property was a company which was co-owned by CN and CP (CNCP Telecommunications) which originated out of a joint venture involving the railways' respective telegraph services. Upon its sale in the 1980s, was successively renamed Unitel (United Telecommunications), AT&T Canada, and Allstream as it went through various owners and branding agreements. Another more-famous telecommunications property wholly-owned and built by CN was the CN Tower in Toronto which still keeps its original name but was divested by the railway company in the mid 1990s. All the proceeds from such sales were used to pay down CN's accumulated debt. At the time of their divestitures, all of these subsidiaries required considerable subsidies which partly explained CN's financial problems prior to recapitalization.
CN also was given free rein by the federal government following deregulation of the railway industry in the 1970s, as well as in 1987, when railway companies began to make tough business decisions by removing themselves from operating money-losing branch lines. In CN's case, some of these branch lines were those which it had been forced to absorb through federal government policies and outright patronage, while others were from the heady expansion era of rural branchlines in the 1920s and early 1930s and were considered obsolete following the development of local road networks.
During the period starting in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, thousands of kilometres of railway lines were abandoned, including the complete track networks in Newfoundland (CN subsidiary Terra Transport, the former Newfoundland Railway ended railway freight operations and mixed fright-passenger trains in 1988. Mainline Passenger rail service in Newfoundland ended in 1969.) and Prince Edward Island (the former PEIR), as well as numerous branch lines in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Southern Ontario, throughout the Prairie provinces, in the British Columbia interior, and on Vancouver Island. Virtually every rural area served by CN in some form was affected, creating resentment for the company and the federal government. Many of these now-abandoned rights-of-way were divested by CN and the federal government and have since been converted into recreational trails by local municipalities and provincial governments.
The US subsidiaries kept their identities due to their ownership. Technically, foreign governments were not allowed to own railroads in the US. However, a railroad owned by another railroad was allowed to operate, regardless as to if that "other railroad" was owned by a foreign government.
The CN Commercialization Act was enacted into law on July 13, 1995 and by November 28, 1995, the federal government had completed an initial public offering (IPO) and transferred all of its shares to private investors. Two key prohibitions in this legislation include, 1) that no individual or corporate shareholder may own more than 15% of CN, and 2) that the company's headquarters must remain in Montreal, thus maintaining CN as a Canadian corporation.
In addition to the retraction in Canada, the company also expanded in a strategic north-south direction in the central United States. In 1998, during an era of mergers in the U.S. railway industry, CN purchased the Illinois Central Railroad (IC), which connected the already existing lines from Vancouver, British Columbia to Halifax, Nova Scotia with a line running from Chicago, Illinois to New Orleans, Louisiana. This single purchase of IC transformed CN's entire corporate focus from being an east-west uniting presence within Canada (sometimes to the detriment of logical business models) into a north-south NAFTA railway (in reference to the North American Free Trade Agreement. CN is now feeding Canadian raw material exports into the U.S. heartland and beyond to Mexico through a strategic alliance with Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS).
In 1999, CN and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), the second largest rail system in the U.S., announced their intent to merge, forming a new corporate entity North American Railways to be headquartered in Montreal to conform with the CN Commercialization Act of 1995. The merger announcement by CN's Paul Tellier and BNSF's Robert Krebs was greeted with skepticism by the U.S. government's Surface Transportation Board (STB), and protested by other major North American rail companies, namely Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and Union Pacific Railroad (UP). Rail customers also denounced the proposed merger, following the confusion and poor service sustained in southeastern Texas in 1998 following UP's purchase of Southern Pacific Railroad (SP). In response to the rail industry, shippers, and political pressure, the STB placed a 15-month moratorium on all rail industry mergers, effectively scuttling CN-BNSF plans. Both companies dropped their merger applications and have never refiled.
After the STB moratorium expired, CN purchased Wisconsin Central (WC) in 2001, which allowed the company's rail network to encircle Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, permitting more efficient connections from Chicago to western Canada. The deal also included Canadian WC subsidiary Algoma Central Railway (ACR), giving access to Sault Ste. Marie and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The purchase of Wisconsin Central also made CN the owner of EWS, the principal freight train operator in the United Kingdom.
On May 13, 2003, the provincial government of British Columbia announced that the provincial Crown corporation, BC Rail (BCR), would be sold with the winning bidder receiving BCR's surface operating assets (locomotives, cars, and service facilities). The provincial government is retaining ownership of the tracks and right-of-way. On November 25, 2003, it was announced that CN's bid of $1 billion CAD would be accepted over those of CPR and several U.S. companies. The transaction was closed effective July 15, 2004. Many opponents – including CPR – accused the government and CN of rigging the bidding process, though this has been denied by the government. Documents relating to the case are under court seal, as they are connected to a parallel marijuana grow-op investigation connected with two senior government aides also involved in the sale of BC Rail.
Also contested was the economic stimulus package that the government gave the cities along the BC Rail route – some saw it as a buy-off done in order to get the municipalities to cooperate with the lease, though the government has asserted that the package was intended to promote economic development along the corridor. Passenger service along the route had been ended by BC Rail a few years earlier due to ongoing losses resulting from deteriorating service. The cancelled passenger service has recently been replaced by a blue-plate tourist service, the Rocky Mountaineer, with fares well over double what the BCR coach fares had been.
CN also announced in October 2003 an agreement to purchase Great Lakes Transportation (GLT), a holding company owned by Blackstone Group for $380 million USD. GLT was the owner of Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway, and the Pittsburgh & Conneaut Dock Company. The key instigator for the deal was the fact that since the Wisconsin Central purchase, CN was required to use Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway trackage rights for a short 17 km (11 mi) "gap" that existed near Duluth, Minnesota on the route between Chicago and Winnipeg. In order to purchase this short section, CN was told by GLT that it would have to purchase the entire company. Also included in GLT's portfolio were 8 Great Lakes vessels for transporting bulk commodities such as coal and iron ore as well as various port facilities. Following Surface Transportation Board approval for the transaction, CN completed the purchase of GLT on May 10, 2004.
Since the company operates in two different countries, CN maintains some corporate distinction by having its U.S. lines incorporated under the Grand Trunk Corporation for legal purposes , however the entire company in both Canada and the U.S. operates under CN, as can be seen in its locomotive and rail car repainting programs.
Since the IC purchase in 1998 CN has been increasingly focused on running a "scheduled freight railroad/railway", meeting on-time performance with rail industry-leading consistency. This has resulted in improved shipper relations, as well as reduced the need for maintaining pools of surplus locomotives and freight cars. CN has also undertaken a rationalization of its existing track network by removing double track sections in some areas and extending passing sidings in other areas.
CN is also a rail industry leader in the employment of radio-control (R/C) for switching locomotives in yards, to the detriment of employees since this results in reductions to the number of yard workers required. CN has frequently been touted in recent years within North American rail industry circles as being the most-improved railroad in terms of productivity and the lowering of its operating ratio, acknowledging the fact that the company is becoming increasingly profitable.
On May 14, 2003, a trestle collapsed under the weight of a freight train near McBride, B.C., killing both crew members. Both men had been disciplined earlier for refusing to take another train on the same bridge, claiming it was unsafe. Subsequent inquiry revealed that as far back as 1999, several bridge components had been reported as rotten, yet no repairs had been ordered by management. Eventually, the disciplinary records of both crewmen were amended posthumously.
Controversy arose again in Canadian political circles in 2003 following the company's decision to refer solely to its acronym "CN" and not "Canadian National", a move some interpret as being an attempt to distance the company from references to "Canada", particularly in the United States, where Canada's decision to not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq was unpopular. Canada's Minister of Transport at the time called this policy move "obscene" after nationalists noted it could be argued the company is no longer Canadian, being primarily owned by American stockholders. The controversy is somewhat tempered by the fact that a majority of large corporations are being increasingly referred to by acronyms. Despite this, the company is still legally called the Canadian National Railway.
The residents of Wabamun Lake, in Alberta, staged a blockade of CN tracks in August 2005, when they were unsatisfied with CN's response to a fuel oil spill into the lake from the derailment of a freight train. It was resolved five hours later when CN officials met with the residents.
On August 5, 2005, a CN train had nine cars derail on a bridge over the Cheakamus River, causing 41,000 litres (9,000 Canadian gal, 11,000 US gal) of caustic soda to spill into the river. The CBC has stated that it could take the river as long as 50 years to recover from the toxic pollution. The Cheakamus River used to have a vibrant fishing tourism industry which now faces an uncertain future. CN is facing accusations from local British Columbians over the rail line's supposed lack of response to this issue, touted as the worst chemical spill in British Columbia's history.
Transport Canada has restricted CN to trains not exceeding 80 car lengths because of the multiple derailments on the former BCR line north from Squamish. CN had been allegedly running trains in excess of 150 cars on this winding and mountainous section of track.
A further derailment at Moran, twenty miles north of Lillooet, on June 30, 2006, has raised more questions about CN's safety policies. Two more derailments, days apart, near Lytton in August 2006 have continued criticism. In the first case, 20 coal cars of a CPR train using a CN bridge derailed, dumping 12 cars of coal into the Thompson River. In the second case half a dozen grain cars spilled on a CN train.
Two CN trains collided on August 4, 2007, on the banks of the Fraser River near Prince George, BC. Several cars carrying gasoline, diesel and lumber burst into flames. Water bombers were used to help put out the fires. Some fuel had seeped into the Fraser River.
On December 4, 2007, a CN train derailed near Edmonton in Strathcona County, Alberta, at 3:30 a.m Mountain Standard Time. Of the 28 cars derailed, most of them were empty or carrying non-hazardous materials such as lumber or pipes.
In response to such high-profile derailments, the federal minister of transportation created an advisory panel to review the Railway Safety Act in February 2007. The panel's report in March 2008 identified a culture of fear and discipline at CN in particular that undermines the safety management system that was introduced in 2001 to give rail companies more responsibility over safety.
"CN's strict adherence to a rules-based approach, focused largely on disciplinary actions when mistakes are made, has instilled a ‘culture of fear and discipline’ and is counter to an effective safety management system. CN needs to acknowledge this openly and take concrete steps to improve," stated the panel.
The goal of the safety management system was to move away from a compliance approach and toward a proactive approach in which companies assess and mitigate risks on their own initiative. The concept as applied to railways was born during the 1994 review of the Railway Safety Act and amendments to act were introduced in 1999 that added requirements for railway companies to develop and implement safety management systems.
"The key for railway companies was to become more proactive, to refine their abilities to identify hazards, and to assess and mitigate risks. The need for companies to build a safety consciousness into their day-to-day operations was of paramount importance. This represented a shift from the traditional reactive approach of considering what had happened in a post-accident environment", stated the panel's report.
The effectiveness of SMS depends on the safety culture within the organization. That's defined as a culture where safety is entrenched in the thinking of managers and employees alike, where open communication allow for ongoing practices to be compared, reviewed and improved. It also depends on employee involvement, who can be "a company's prime source of information for the identification of hazards and assessment of mitigation strategies."
However, the panel heard "from many railway employees who felt neither involved nor informed about their company's safety management system. Rather, employees often described their organizational culture in such a way that the Panel could not reconcile it with an effective safety culture."
The panel cited the example of passenger rail company Via Rail to illustrate a safety culture needed for SMS. Via's implementation of SMS is successful because the company makes safety management important to all employees. While there are certain cardinal rules that lead to disciplinary action if broken, Via also has processes to build openness and trust between managers and employees. "For instance, employees are observed at regular cycles, and corrective coaching takes place immediately when errors are observed," the panel report noted.
In contrast, CN manages safety through an "antecedent, behaviour and consequences" process, which the panel said is based on a traditional rule and discipline model. It quoted United Transportation Union leader Sylvia Leblanc's description of CN's attitude towards safety as one that "seems to be ‘blame and punish’ instead of ‘educate and correct.’ Frequently, employees involved in accidents… are simply blamed for errors without followup or root cause investigation. They are then punished without any other corrective action taken on the part of the railway to prevent reoccurrences."
A management culture that relies on discipline, or threat of discipline, to enforce rules has "a tendency to instil fear, and to stifle employee participation and reporting," the panel report stated. "A significant mistrust of management develops. People stop communicating — and that can have a detrimental impact on safety."
The growth in passenger travel ended with the Great Depression, which lasted between 1929 and 1939, but picked up somewhat during World War II. By the end of World War II, many of CNR's passenger cars were old and worn down. Accidents at Dugald, Manitoba in 1947 and Canoe River, British Columbia in 1950, wherein extra passenger trains comprised of older equipment collided with transcontinental passenger trains comprised of somewhat newer equipment, demonstrated the dangers inherent in the older cars. In 1953, CNR ordered 359 lightweight passenger cars, allowing them to re-equip their major routes.
On April 24, 1955, the same day that the CPR introduced its transcontinental train The Canadian, CNR introduced its own new transcontinental passenger train, the Super Continental, which used new streamlined rolling stock. However, the Super Continental was never considered to be as glamorous as the Canadian. For example, it did not include dome cars. Dome cars would be added in the early 1960s with the purchase of six former Milwaukee Road "Super Domes." They were used on the Super Continental during the Summer tourist season.
Rail passenger traffic in Canada declined significantly between World War II and 1960 due to automobiles and airplanes. In the 1960s, CN's privately-owned rival CPR reduced its passenger services significantly. However, the government-owned CN continued much of its passenger services and marketed new schemes, such as the "red, white and blue" fare structure, to bring passengers back to rail.
In 1968, CN introduced a new high-speed train, the United Aircraft Turbo, which was powered by gas turbines instead of diesel engines. It made the trip between Toronto and Montreal in four hours, but was not entirely successful because it was somewhat uneconomical and not always reliable. The trainsets were retired in 1982 and later scrapped at Naporano Iron and Metal in New Jersey.
In 1976, CN created an entity called VIA-CN as a separate operating unit for its passenger services. VIA evolved into a coordinated marketing effort with CP Rail for rail passenger services, and later into a separate Crown corporation responsible for inter-city passenger services in Canada. VIA Rail took over CN's passenger services on April 1, 1978. CN continued to fund its commuter rail services in Montreal until 1982, when the Montreal Urban Community Transit Commission (MUCTC) assumed financial responsibility for them; operation was contracted out to CN, which eventually spun-off a separate subsidiary, Montrain for this purpose. When the Montreal–Deux-Montagnes line was completely rebuilt in 1994-1995, the new rolling stock came under the ownership of the MUCTC, until a separate government agency, the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) was set up to consolidate all suburban transit administration around Montreal. Since then, suburban service has resumed to Saint-Hilaire.
On CN's narrow gauge lines in Newfoundland, CN also operated a main line passenger train that ran from St. John's to Port aux Basque called the Caribou. Nicknamed the Newfie Bullett, this train ran until June 1969. It was replaced by the CN Roadcruiser Buses. The CN Roadcruiser service was started in Fall 1968 and was run in direct competition with the company's own passenger train. Travelers saw that the buses could travel between St. John's and Port aux Basque in 14 hours versus the trains 22 hours.
With the demise of the Caribou in June 1969, the only passenger train service run by CN on the island were the mixed (freight and passenger) trains that ran on the Bonivista, Carbonear and Argentia branch lines. The only passenger service surviving on the main line was between Bishop's Falls and Corner Brook. Terra Transport would continue to operate the mixed trains on the branch lines until 1984. The main line run between Corner Brook and Bishops falls made its last run on September 30, 1988.
Terra Transport/CN would run the Roadcruiser bus service until March 29, 1996. The Bus service was sold off to DRL Coachlines of Triton, Newfoundland.
Since acquiring the Algoma Central Railway in 2001, CN has operated passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario. As well, CN operates the Agawa Canyon Tour excursion, an excursion that runs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario north to the Agawa Canyon. The canyon tour train consists of up to 28 passenger cars and 2 dining cars, the majority of which were built for CN by Canadian Car and Foundry in 1953-54. These cars were transferred to VIA Rail in 1978 and bought by the Algoma Central Railway in the 1990s. A "Snow Train" tour is also offered during the fall and winter season.
CN inherited from the Canadian Northern Railway several box-cabs electric used through the Mount Royal Tunnel. Those were built between 1914 and 1918 by General Electric in Schenectady, New-York. In order to operate the new Montreal Central Station, which opened in 1943 and was to be kept smoke-free, they were supplemented by nearly-identical locomotives from the National Harbour Board; those engines were built in 1924 by Beyer-Garratt and English-Electric. In 1950, three General Electric center-cab electric locomotives were added to the fleet. In 1952 Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) were also added. The EMUs were Built by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Montreal
Electrification was restricted to Montreal, and went from Central Station to Saint-Lambert (south), Turcot (west) and Saint-Eustache-sur-le-lac, later renamed Deux-Montagnes, (north). But as steam locomotives gave way to diesels, engine changeovers were no longer necessary, and catenary was eventually pulled from the west and from the south. However until the end of the original electrification, CN's electric locomotives pulled VIA Rail's trains, including its diesel electric locomotives, to and from Central Station.
The last 2,400 V DC CN electric locomotive ran on June 6, 1995, the very same locomotive that pulled the inaugural train through the Mount Royal Tunnel back in 1918. Later in 1995 the AMT's Electric Multiple Units began operating under 25 kV AC electrification.
In 1929, the CNR made its first experiment with diesel electric locomotives, acquiring two from Westinghouse, numbered 9000 and 9001. It was the first North American railway to use diesels in mainline service. These early units proved the feasibility of the diesel concept, but were not always reliable. No. 9000 served until 1939, and No. 9001 until 1947. The difficulties of the Great Depression precluded much further progress towards diesel locomotives. The CNR began its conversion to diesel locomotives after World War II, and had fully dieselized by 1960. Most of the CNR's first-generation diesel locomotives were made by General Motors Diesel and Montreal Locomotive Works.
For its narrow-gauge lines in Newfoundland CN acquired from General Motors Diesel Division (EMD Canada) the 900 series, Models NF110 (road numbers 900-908) and EMD NF210 (road numbers 909-946). For use on the branch lines CN purchased the EMD G8 (road numbers 800-805).
For passenger service the CNR acquired GMD FP9 diesels, as well as CLC CPA16-5, ALCO MLW FPA-2 and FPB-4 diesels. These locomotives made up most of the CNR's passenger fleet, although CN also owned some 60 RailLiners (Budd Rail Diesel Cars), some dual-purpose diesel freight locomotives (freight locomotives equipped with passenger train apparatus, such as steam generators) as well as the locomotives for the Turbo trainsets. VIA acquired most of CN's passenger fleet when it took over CN passenger service in 1978.
The CN fleet as of 2007 consists of 1548 locomotives, most of which are products of either General Motors' Electro-Motive Division (EMD), or General Electric/GE Transportation Systems.
Much of the current roster is made up of EMD SD70I and EMD SD75I locomotives and GE C44-9W locomotives. Recently acquired are the new EMD SD70M-2 and GE ES44DC. A large number of older locomotives still soldier on, many more than 30 years old. CN has stayed firmly committed to conventional direct current traction motors, instead of the new alternating current motors being used by many railways in heavy-haul service.
CN locomotives have long featured unique features, unlike the stock EMD and GE locomotives. CN introduced a wide-nosed four window "Comfort Cab", the predecessor to the now standard North American Safety Cab, which is now standard on new North American freight locomotives. After a BC derailment, CN introduced ditch lights, lights mounted on or just below the anti-climbers on the front pilot of a locomotive. These are arranged in a "cross-eyed" configuration, to make trains more visible at grade-crossings, and to give better visibility around curves. Since then, ditch lights have become standard features on all North American locomotives.
CN continued to use class-lights on its locomotives, and the first order of the new ES44DC locomotives have red class lights inset in the upper corners of the nose which are illuminated when the locomotive is operating in reverse, or as a DPU unit. The second order of ES44DC's has only a single class light on each end, mounted above the conductor's side ditch light. CN's ES44DC's, like their C44-9W's, feature "tear-drop" windshields, windshields with the outer lower corner dropped as opposed to the standard rectangular GE windshield, to allow for better visibility. The first order of SD70M-2 locomotives had their headlights mounted on the cab, while the second order (8800 series) dropped the headlight to the nose, and also features added class lights mounted above the windshields on the cab.
While many railroads have ordered new "desktop" controls, where the controls are arranged on a desk, CN has stuck with the conventional control stands preferred by railroaders, which feature a stand which is arranged more to the side of the engineer with the controls sticking out horizontally. This arrangement makes reverse operation easier, and allows engineers to "put their feet up", without the feeling of being stuck at a desk all day.
CN's General Motors SD50F, SD60F, and General Electric C40-8M feature a full width carbody which is tapered to allow for better rear visibility. This is referred to as a "Draper Taper" after its creator.