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CN to utilize new Wabtec software providing network visibility

Canadian railway and tech provider hail major step toward network automation

CN will utilize Wabtec's new rail visibility software. (Photo: Shutterstock/Christopher O'Donnell)

Canadian railway CN will be using new and advanced software from rail technology provider Wabtec that both parties say could be a major step toward network automation for the rail industry.

The software, called precision dispatch system, collects and analyzes data from all rolling stock, wayside device assets and positive train control in order to monitor network conditions and provide network visibility. The product can work in both signaled and dark territory, according to Wabtec (NYSE: WAB). 

“CN is leading the industry in rail network optimization as the launch customer for the precision dispatch system,” said Nalin Jain, president of Wabtec’s digital electronics business, in a release. “This system is the first of its kind and acts as a command and control system at the heart of railroad operations. CN will be able to increase capacity, improve efficiency and safety across its more than 20,000-mile network.”

CN (NYSE: CNI) will conduct a phased rollout of the technology on its network, with plans for the technology to be fully operational at CN by late 2023. By the time the rollout is completed, there will be 37 desks at CN’s control center utilizing the software. 

“The precision dispatch system represents an important step forward in our network optimization. This solution is designed to enable us to maximize the potential of our rail network and will protect the safety of employees,” said Dominique Malenfant, CN’s chief information and technology officer. 

Modernized locomotives arriving in Australia

Wabtec also announced separately that it will be modernizing locomotives for Fortescue Metals Group. The arrangement with Fortescue will be the first time that locomotives modernized by Wabtec will be operating in Australia.

Wabtec will transform Fortescue’s fleet into AC44C6M locomotives. Features include a UX engine, new electrical cabinets, newly designed high-efficiency radiator and radiator cab, an upgraded control system to remove obsolescence and AC traction with individual axle control, Wabtec said. 

Wabtec’s modernized locomotive for Fortescue. (Photo: Wabtec)

The locomotives will be rebuilt at Wabtec’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas, before being deployed over the next two years to western Australia and Fortescue’s mining operations. 

“While we have completed more than 1,000 modernizations for customers globally, it’s a first for Australia and demonstrates Fortescue’s commitment to drive more sustainable rail operations,” said Wendy McMillan, Wabtec’s senior regional vice president for Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Modernizing these locomotives will lengthen their lifespan by another 20 years, while also reducing fuel consumption and maintenance and cutting repair and overhaul expenses by up to 20%, McMillan said, adding that for Fortescue, the repurposing and rebuilding efforts will bring about up to a 55% increase in tractive effort and more than 40% increase in reliability. 

“The procurement of the modernized locomotives is an important element of Fortescue’s locomotive fleet strategy,” said Mark Komene, general manager of Hedland operations for Fortescue, in a release. “This newly modernized fleet will enable substantial long-term capital and operating costs savings, provide the latest traction and control technology, and enable future upgrades to alternative energy sources such as battery electric in support of Fortescue’s industry-leading target to be carbon neutral by 2030.”

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.