Canadian railways review safety policies

by The Canadian Press

CALGARY, Alberta and Montreal, Quebec—The disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., has prompted Canada’s two of largest railways to review their own safety procedures.

Nearly two weeks ago, an unmanned train belonging to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway carrying 72 cars full of oil crashed into the town, setting off explosions that are believed to have killed up to 50 people.

In reaction to the situation, and to the national discussion that is beginning to happen about railroad safety, CP said it’s strengthening some of its safety procedures following a review.

“The recent situation gave us a chance to thoroughly review our safety procedures, as we do on an ongoing basis,” said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canada’s second-largest railway.

“The result is that we have now strengthened our operating procedures in some key areas that were identified from what recently occurred.”

For instance, Greenberg said if trains must be left unattended outside a terminal or yard, the locomotive will be locked; in the past that was only the case in some “high risk” locations. Brake-setting procedures—which Greenberg says already meet or exceed regulations—will also be strengthened. And trains carrying regulated commodities will not be left unattended on main line tracks.

“Our railway continually reviews practices and procedures to identify ways to further strengthen operating safety,” he wrote. “For CP, we felt implementing additional safety measures at this time was the prudent step to take.”

A spokesman for Montreal-based CN says the railroad is also reviewing its safety procedures in light of Lac-Megantic.

Mark Hallman said Canadian National—Canada’s biggest railroad—already has “robust” policies in place to make sure its unattended trains are secure, which rely on “multiple safety defences.”

For instance, air brakes are applied on both locomotives and throughout the train and the hand brake is applied to the lead locomotive, Hallman said.

All locomotives are also secured to prevent movement. The reverser, which acts like a gear shift in a car, is removed from the control stand, so that a train cannot move forward or backward. All doors and windows are locked on locomotives, and two crew members communicate with one another to make sure everything is being done right. And CN locomotives have a device that prompts a full-service brake application if it detects movement and there is no control stand response.

A little over a week before the Lac-Megantic disaster, the safety of transporting dangerous goods by rail was brought to light in a separate incident.

Severe flooding in Calgary caused a Canadian Pacific-owned rail bridge to give way while a train carrying petroleum distillate was crossing it in the middle of the night. Crews managed to secure the cars so that they didn’t get swept away in the Bow River. They then drained the fluid and removed the cars from the broken bridge.

Though the incident was resolved without injuries or environmental damage, the close-call caused Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to criticize Canadian Pacific. In particular, Nenshi questioned whether recent layoffs at the railway under the leadership of new CEO Hunter Harrison could have contributed to the crisis.

Canadian Pacific announced in December that it would cut its workforce by some 4,500 positions by 2016 through a combination of layoffs and attrition. But the railway has said the number of bridge inspectors has remained the same.