Railways 101

Member Profile | SFP Pointe-Noire
A conversation with CEO, Mr. Louis Gravel

Among its business lines, Société ferroviaire et portuaire de Pointe-Noire (SFPPN) manages a short-haul heavy-tonnage rail line that is expanding rapidly. The Government of Quebec and Minerai de fer Quebec recently announced a joint investment of $ 135 million so that the SFPPN can modernize its infrastructure, double its capacity and improve its reliability in all seasons. After the investments, more than 30 MGT will pass on the tracks.

The CEO of the SFPPN, Mr. Louis Gravel, told us about the challenges and opportunities his company faces this winter.

Q: The SFPPN connects the Far North and Labrador to the Port of Sept-Îles and facilitates production from mines and other businesses. How do you prepare for winter and how do you ensure winter operations continue? 

A: Indeed, we serve mining companies located in climatic zones where it is sometimes between -45 and -50 degrees Celsius, sometimes for several consecutive days, and often with a lot of snow. We also have our port operations, which take place in a much more temperate climate. This temperature difference demands special attention to the air and brake systems for the 1,200 cars we deal with every day.

The winter period stretches easily from November to April. Since our summer is very short, planning for the next winter begins as soon as spring arrives. The track improvement work done in summer allows us to focus mainly on basic maintenance and snow removal once the cold season arrives; and this without compromising our safety standards (which are equivalent to those of a Class 1 track).

Q: Explain to us the preparations that the SFPPN has made to prepare for this winter like no other.

A: Like any other business, COVID has changed just about everything. Each of our employees have their temperature taken before each shift. We have rolled out several measures, new procedures and new policies. We have visits from public health authorities, even though we have much lower positivity rates than other regions of Quebec. We do our part to protect the well-being of our employees and the communities we serve.

Q: What concrete and practical differences exist between SFPPN’s winter operations and other short-haul railways, given that safety is the primary consideration for everyone?
Our trains often have 240 cars.

A: We are among the only short-haul railway companies in Canada that operate locomotives with locomotives.
The investment announced last December will allow us to double our transport volumes. To get there, we’ll need to hire more than 40 employees. This involves a lot of training and the certification of train conductors, which will be done at our local college.

Q: How does your membership in the Railway Association of Canada help you prepare for winter?

A: This helps us immensely, as this membership gives us access to other short-haul rail lines and facilitates the sharing of best practices across our networks. Health and safety is one of our core values ​​and we are continually improving in these areas.

Q: You seem to be on the right track. How do the key pillars of the Right Way Initiative support your winter operations?

A: Our “Right Track” commitments guide us towards a more certain and sustainable future. This is also the case for our counterparts across Canada, and this in all seasons.

Company name: The Pointe-Noire Railway and Port Company
Founded: 2016
CEO: M. Louis Gravel
Offices: Sept-Îles (Quebec)
No. of employees: 220-230 (current); 270 (planned 2021)