CP says its trains did not cause Lytton fire

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

Canadian Pacific has responded to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s (TSB) rail transportation safety investigation (R21V0143) update concerning the fire in Lytton, B.C.

The TSB posted an update regarding its investigation of “potential train activity-related fire” in the vicinity of Mile 98.3 of Canadian National (CN) Ashcroft Subdivision around the time of the wildfire in Lytton, B.C. on June 30, 2021.

The TSB said that “at approximately 16:50 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), smoke was spotted on the nearby hills around the pedestrian bridge which parallels the Canadian National (CN) bridge at Lytton, B.C.” According to the update, TSB deployed an investigation team on July 9, 2021 to gather information and assess.

In a statement, TSB Chairwoman Kathy Fox said that a full TSB report on any train-related cause or contributing factors in connection to the Lytton fire could take up to two years. Clearly, at this preliminary stage, any conclusions or speculation regarding any cause of the Lytton fire or contribution factor is premature.

Additionally, Fox stated that it “is certainly a wake-up call to really look at what precautions need to be taken by railway companies…”

In response, CP said: “In light of the early stage of this TSB investigation, we believe it is irresponsible and misleading for the chair of the TSB to imply that railways are to blame for the fire.”

CP said in its statement that to the “best of its knowledge”, the last train that passed through Lytton on CN’s Ashcroft Subdivision before the fire started was a CN train known to CP as CN 731L. To clarify, while this train is CP equipment, with CP locomotives and railcars, it was transferred to the care, custody and control of CN at Kamloops in the morning of June 30, 2021, and was being operated by CN, using CP’s locomotives, over CN’s own tracks on the Ashcroft Subdivision.

Transport Canada inspected that train on July 6 and confirmed in a letter dated July 7 that there were “no non-compliance or concerns” in relation to that train.

CP confirmed it had also inspected that train, as well as all other CP trains that went through the town of Lytton during the relevant time period on June 30 when the fire is understood to have started. Based on a review of train records, including video footage, CP said it “has found nothing to indicate that any of CP’s trains or equipment that passed through Lytton caused or contributed to the fire”.

Reducing wildfire risk

The railway said in its statement that it works in with government agencies, including the B.C. Wildfire Service, to share information on wildfire activity and risk.

Some of its fire prevention measures include limiting vegetation growth on its right-of-way and in yards; soaking the track and surrounding vicinity with water to mitigate fire risk when undertaking railhead grinding; and, during periods of extreme temperatures, it increases the frequency of track inspections and reduces train speeds or halts traffic (determined by conditions) to maintain a safe rail infrastructure to support train operations.

In response to the Lytton wildfire, CP has taken additional actions, sending additional emergency response assets to the area, including water trucks, and storage units, on-call supervisors ready for emergency response, and fire-fighting equipment.

Supporting Lytton

CP has pledged $1 million to support wildfire recovery efforts in Lytton. As part of that, the railway is assisting the village in acquiring emergency communications and computer equipment.

CP also has offered to work directly with the Village of Lytton, Lytton First Nation, Thompson-Nicola Regional District and other agencies to provide resources and logistics support in the development of temporary housing facilities for families that have been displaced. Additionally, donations from CP employees are being matched to the Canadian Red Cross to aid in relief efforts.