|November 6, 2005
Federal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre has ordered CN Rail to cut the length of its conventional trains on a treacherous stretch of track
where there have been several recent derailments. The order limits conventional freight trains to 80 cars while operating northbound
between Squamish, about 50 kilometres north of Vancouver, and Clinton, B.C., 220 kilometres north. CN had been running trains of
more than 100 cars. The mountainous, twisting line has been the scene of three derailments in recent weeks, including one that spilled
toxic sodium hydroxide into the Cheakamus River.
“I am very concerned about the recent CN derailments in British Columbia and that's why we are ordering CN to restrict the length of their
conventional trains in the Squamish area as a precautionary measure,” Mr. Lapierre said in a news release.
“I am also concerned about CN's overall safety performance and I have written to senior officials at CN to express those concerns. “I
have made it clear if corrective actions aren't taken by the company I could call a public inquiry into CN's operations.”
CN Rail took over operation of the former BC Rail northern line when the provincial government privatized operation of the Crown-owned
railway in 2003 for $1-billion.
The spate of derailments sparked criticism that CN had increased the length of freight trains beyond what the line could handle. BC Rail
trains typically were 80 to 100 cars long.
The sodium hydroxide spill occurred on August 5th when six cars of a CN train derailed at a bridge across the Cheakamus River, just
north of Squamish. The tank car tumbled down the riverbank and broke open, sending most of its contents, also known as caustic soda,
into the river and sparking a fish kill. Wells of several nearby residents were also put off limits until testing found the water to be safe.
On October 24th, nine empty CN flatcars derailed in the same general area.
Then on Thursday, November 3rd, 10 empty cars of a 131-car train went off the track just north of Sunset Beach. Transport Canada said
the severity and frequency of the derailments led the department to launch a targeted inspection and safety review of CN's compliance
with railway safety rules.
The inspection was carried out nationally between August 22nd and September 16th, before the two latest derailments. “Deficiencies
and incidences of non-compliance were identified and conveyed to CN on September 27,” the department said in its release.
“CN is actively addressing the immediate concerns and an action plan has been developed to address other issues identified during the
targeted inspection and safety review.” The department said it is reviewing that plan.
The results of the inspection, safety review and audit of CN's safety-management systems will be made public, probably by early
December, the department said.
Yesterday's Transport Canada order also requires CN to provide a detailed analysis of its distributed power-operated train operations in
the Squamish area, referring to trains with locomotives in the middle as well as the front. It also calls for a comprehensive risk
assessment of any changes CN has made to BC Rail's operating instructions, focusing on train length, equipment, track conditions and
CN executives had been meeting with federal and B.C. government officials about the derailments.
The Opposition B.C. New Democrats had called on B.C. Transport Minister Kevin Falcon to push Ottawa for a reduction in the size of CN
trains on the line. Mr. Falcon said Thursday he was awaiting findings of a federal Transportation Safety Board investigation into the
Source: Canadian Press