UPDATE 1-Canada's CN Rail hiring thousands as shipments surge

(Adds details, CN comment)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/MONTREAL, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway Co plans to extend a major hiring spree into next year as Canada's biggest freight railroad scrambles to catch up with surging shipments and fill vacancies, a company official said on Friday.

The hiring blitz, which has added 3,500 workers through this year and calls for at least 2,000 more in 2018, follows significant job cuts in 2015 and 2016 and reflects a resurgent economy and stiffer competition from Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

The 5,500 new hires in Canada and the United States represent nearly one-quarter of CN's total workforce, and include roughly 1,700 new positions over the two-year period.

Much of the hiring focuses on western Canada, where business is brisk hauling bumper grain crops and intermodal containers to port, Doug Ryhorchuk, a CN vice president of operations, said in an interview.

He said CN's freight business had been increasing "right across the board," however, and no single segment accounted for the need to hire more people.

In addition to crops and container traffic, there has been a surge this year in the volume of sand being shipped for use in fracking shale rock to produce oil and gas.

CN's network runs through Wisconsin where high-quality sand supplies are located. (Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by James Dalgleish and Tom Brown)