The chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. has set out an ambitious plan to more than double the company's profit in four years largely by increasing the speed of its trains.
Hunter Harrison told analysts and investors during a presentation in White Plains, N.Y., that his four-year financial targets include increasing annual revenue to $10-billion, from about $6.7-billion in 2014, and generating cumulative cash flow before dividends of $6-billion. He also plans to more than double the earnings per share from the current 2014 estimate of $8.53.
To reach these goals, Mr. Harrison said the railway will focus on improving the speed at which goods are delivered, lifting productivity and reducing costs.
"You turn cars quicker, you turn locomotives quicker, and if you turn those assets more quickly, what happens to your service? It improves," Mr. Harrison said. "If your service and velocity improve, you can improve your quality of revenue and probably gain market share."
Regulators in Canada and the United States have implemented new train-speed limits in some areas amid concerns about rail safety stemming from the derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., last year that killed 47 people. Officials have also ordered older oil tank cars off the rails.
Mr. Harrison has been an outspoken critic of the new restrictions.
CP's average train speed at the end of September was 30 kilometres an hour, short of the North American industry average of 37 kilometres.
In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Harrison said the railway can operate safely at greater speeds. He said the railway faces pressure to move more grain, amid calls for slower speeds. "It doesn't work," he said.
"Velocity, not at the expense of safety, [but] to increase safe operation will be the key to this industry going forward. It will have a huge impact on the economy, and on jobs and all the stuff that's good," he said.
The four-year plan is the second long-term road map put forward by Mr. Harrison since he took charge of the Calgary-based railway in 2012. He took his place in the CEO's chair after a proxy fight launched by U.S. hedge fund Pershing Square, and vowed to shake up the 133-year-old company.
Since then, he has slashed costs and made the railway more efficient. Now he is facing expectations to make CP a bigger, more profitable company.
"Our transformation over the last two years has been nothing short of remarkable, but the journey is far from over," Mr. Harrison said. "We've dramatically improved the operating performance of the company; our operating ratio is approaching industry best and we've generated significant value for shareholders. Our achievements of the past two years have set the platform for future growth."
The railway's operating ratio, a closely watched measure of expenses versus revenue, stands at 65.1, which lags that of Canadian National Railway Co.'s 59.6.
Mr. Harrison said he planned to accelerate growth while keeping a tight rein on costs. CP will invest in key rail corridors and terminals, and try to drive down its operating ratio to "industry-leading levels" in the low 60s, he added.
CP's share price has risen by 37 per cent this year as investors reacted to strong financial results. On Wednesday, the shares fell by 4 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
This week CP said it would more than double the size of its share-buyback program to 12.7 million shares, a move analysts said signals management's confidence in the railway's outlook.
"In our opinion, this [buyback] announcement supports our position that share repurchases will be a core part of CP's capital return strategy going forward – and it is likely an indication that buybacks will take precedence over dividend increases, a nod to the higher proportion of U.S. investors," RBC analyst Walter Spracklin said in a note to clients.