New rules to help prevent destruction of rail infrastructure

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by Emily Atkins

The federal government has introduced two new rule sets for railways to help prevent damage to infrastructure from fire and natural disasters.

The town of Lytton and mountains burn in BC wildfire.

One focuses on railway-related fire prevention; the other seeks to improve the resiliency of Canada’s railway infrastructure against climate change impacts, such as flooding, landslides, and fire risks.

To help prevent fires on railway property and in nearby communities, Transport Canada is introducing these measures as part of broader federal government efforts on climate change adaptation by creating new rules for the fire season (April 1 to October 31).

Lytton wildfire

The new fire mitigation rules make permanent the measures contained in Ministerial Order 21–06, issued by the Minister of Transport in July 2021, to reduce the risk wildfires in the context of extreme weather. The order was issued in the aftermath of the wildfires that destroyed the town of Lytton, B.C. in June and July 2021.

The fire prevention rules have been encoded in spite of a Transportation Safety Board finding that freight trains were not responsible for sparking the Lytton fire.

These new rules require railway companies to:

  • Reduce train speeds and conduct additional track inspections when temperatures are high to reduce the risk of a derailment caused by track conditions;
  • Inspect locomotive exhaust systems more frequently to ensure they are free of any deposits that could pose a fire risk; and
  • Implement a fire risk reduction plan.

The fire risk reduction plan requires companies to monitor fire risk levels, manage vegetation, reduce activities that could spark fires, and respond to detected fires. Companies must also engage local governments and Indigenous communities on their plans.

Climate change adaptation

BC Highway 1, Tank Hill, Lytton, after the November 2021 flooding. (BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure)

Transport Canada is also announcing the Rail Climate Change Adaptation Program. Its objective is to support research, development, and implementation of innovative technologies, tools, and approaches to better understand and address the increasing risks and impacts of climate change on Canada’s rail sector.

The initiative follows the destructive flooding in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland in late 2021, that effectively cut off rail links between B.C. and the rest of Canada. The Rail Climate Change Adaptation Program will provide up to $2.2M in contribution funding to Canadian railways to cost-share research. Project submissions from eligible railways will be accepted until September 28, 2022.

Eligible recipients include federally or provincially regulated railway companies incorporated in Canada that support freight movement and supply chains, including Class I railways and most Class II/III railways (i.e., shortlines).