|October 2, 2005
The day after CN Rail's cleanup of its eighth derailment in two months, new figures from the Transportation Safety Board show accident
rates have been climbing for all Canadian railways, especially Canadian National. “We have seen a spike in CN numbers,” said board
spokesman John Cottreau. Since early August, eight CN trains have come off their tracks. At least two derailments have caused
One derailment west of Edmonton last month spilled hundreds of thousands of litres of toxic oil into Lake Wabamun. Two days later, a
CN train dumped highly corrosive sodium hydroxide into the Fraser River, killing thousands of fish.
The most recent accident occurred Tuesday near New Sarepta, southeast of Edmonton. The 10 derailed cars were empty and the tracks
were re-opened that evening.
CN officials note the carrier's safety record is comparable to the best in the industry and that the accident rate for all its North American
track to date this year had declined 17 per cent over the previous year. But numbers obtained by The Canadian Press show that on CN's
Canadian lines, the accident rate has been increasing for at least six years.
In 1999, CN recorded 1.47 derailments for every million miles its trains travelled on main lines. By 2004, that figure had increased 37 per
cent to 2.04. And for the first eight months of 2005, the accident rate shot to 2.94.
Between 1999 and 2004, Canadian Pacific's accident rate also increased from 1.35 to 1.92, and it rose again to 1.98 during the first two-
thirds of 2005.
The two carriers account for 85 per cent of the 81.1 million miles trains travelled on Canadian main lines last year.
CN spokesman Jim Feeny said the board's numbers are accurate but include all accidents, minor and serious. The railway normally
reports accidents as measured by the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, which doesn't require railways to report minor incidents.
“The TSB figures capture many more incidents that are not severe enough to be reported under FRA,” he said. Canadian Pacific
spokesman Ed Greenberg echoed Feeney's comments.
“Not all the numbers in the TSB data reflect the type of incidents that someone would see on the news,” he said. “You may just have a
couple of wheels off the track.” Still, he acknowledged the increasing accident rate. “When we see numbers from the TSB, we take them
Scott Dawson of the United Steelworkers Union says an accident may be considered minor simply because of where it happened or
whether the cars happened to be empty or full. “‘Minor' may be luck of the draw.”
Union members are meeting with CN management to try to improve safety.
“We're concerned about what the causes are,” said Mr. Dawson, president of the local representing rail maintenance workers. “We want
them to be looking at that.”
Mr. Feeny said CN is increasing rail inspections by 60 per cent. Other measures being implemented include brake failure sensors and
derailment detectors on key bridges and along waterways. CN is also testing a locomotive-mounted sensor that could tell when rails are
“We've got some issues that we have to address, but we still maintain we operate a safe railway,” Mr. Feeny said. “The TSB figures show
there are some things we need to be looking at — and we are.”
Although the safety board figures show accident rates on the rise for both Canada's main rail carriers, a safety and maintenance audit
recently ordered by Federal Transport Minister Jean Lapierre only applies to CN, said spokeswoman Cathy Cossaboom. Inspectors will
examine internal documents as well as equipment and infrastructure in the field, she said. Ms. Cossaboom said it's the first time
Transport Canada has conducted this kind of audit of a single rail carrier.
“The severity and frequency of recent derailments have led us to undertake this inspection of CN.”
Source: Canadian Press