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CN promotes veteran to fill open spot as COO

A CN train passes by Dorval station in Montreal, January 23, 2012.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Canadian National Railway has promoted long-time employee Jim Vena to fill the position of chief operating officer, left vacant with the departure of Keith Creel to rival Canadian Pacific.

Italian-born Vena, 54, joined the railway in 1977 as a brakeman in Alberta and rose through the ranks to oversee all three of CN's operating regions. He will move to Montreal from Illinois, where he was senior vice-president of the southern region.

CN chief executive officer Claude Mongeau said Vena has "a wealth of railway experience and strong leadership skills" that will help drive the railway's agenda of operational and service excellence.

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Replacing Vena as head of the southern region is Jeff Liepelt, 53, currently senior vice-president of the eastern region. Liepelt also started his career as a brakeman at the former Illinois Central Railroad in 1978, which was acquired by CN in 1999.

Analysts had expected that CN would move quickly to replace Creel from within by either Vena or Mike Cory, senior vice-president of the western region.

The Montreal-based railway also announced Tuesday the retirement next month of Sameh Fahmy, 61, senior vice-president, engineering, mechanical and supply management. The three functions overseen by Fahmy will report directly to Vena.

Canadian Pacific hired Creel, 45, earlier this month to be its second-in-command and a likely successor to CEO Hunter Harrison, who came out of retirement last year to improve the performance of the Calgary-based railway.

The two railways resolved a legal dispute that arose after Harrison, a retired former head of CN, joined CP. As part of the settlement, CP has agreed not to hire "certain CN employees" until Dec. 31, 2016. Other terms of the deal are confidential.

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