Ottawa orders trains to slow down in the cold

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

OTTAWA – A new Ministerial Order, issued under the Railway Safety Act, restricts train speeds based on cold temperature conditions, instead of restricting train speed based on a winter date range as previously required.

Railway companies will be required to develop and submit a Winter Operations Plan specific to each subdivision where higher risk key trains operate. The measure is intended to reduce the risk of derailments during cold temperatures, and to improve the efficiency of Canada’s winter rail operations.


Key trains have one or more loaded tank cars of dangerous goods that are toxic by inhalation; or contain 20 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods. Higher-risk key trains carry crude oil or liquefied petroleum gases in a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars, or 35 or more tank cars dispersed through the train.

“Cold temperatures influence railway operations and can affect the integrity of the rail infrastructure,” said minister of transport Marc Garneau.

“To better protect Canadians who live and work along rail lines, this Ministerial Order prescribes speed restrictions during cold weather, specifically for trains carrying large quantities of dangerous goods. This will further reduce the risk of derailments during the coldest weather conditions, and improve efficiency of winter rail operations.”


The new Ministerial Order also specifies a number of additional key elements that must be satisfied in order to achieve a greater standard of safety during cold weather conditions, including:

  • improved track inspection and track maintenance practices;
  • requirement for further speed restrictions if warranted due to inspection results;
  • requirement of risk mitigation measures to account for rapid temperature fluctuation;
  • requirement of the use of new technology to detect a rail break; and
  • requirement for of approval of the plan by a professional engineer.

Regional temperature variations

This Ministerial Order takes into account that different regions of the country can experience very different temperature ranges on any given day, while also considering the possibility of abnormal temperature fluctuations that may occur outside the November 15 to  March 15 period.

The conditions of the new Ministerial Order take immediate effect. However, railway companies that do not develop a Winter Operations Plan specific to each subdivision where higher risk key trains operate will be required to adhere to the original the date-based approach to reducing their speeds during the winter months, which begins on November 15.

Transport Canada’s role is to monitor railway companies for compliance with rules, regulations, standards, and Orders made under the Railway Safety Act. If non-compliance or a safety concern is identified, Transport Canada takes appropriate enforcement action which could include Letters of Non-Compliance, Notices, Notices and Orders, Administrative Monetary Penalties and/or prosecution.