|March 13, 2006
Transport Canada says CN is operating unsafely
|has adequately addressed safety concerns, according to a recent article published in the Edmonton Journal. One area of concern is
trains leaving terminals with inaccurate train journals, a responsibility of Train Movement Clerks who are members of CAW National
In letters sent to the railway company last September, railway safety inspector Pierre LeFort said "... it is my opinion that an immediate
threat to safe railway operations exists."
CN's problems date from 2002, when the department issued an enforcement order called a "notice and order." The department was
concerned about recurring instances of trains leaving terminals with inaccurate car counts, car sequences, train lengths and
The September 2005 letter to CN executive vice-president Ed Harris said: "Transport Canada continues to receive complaints from
CN employees and senior union officials describing numerous instances of trains departing terminals without accurate journals."
LeFort listed eight examples from across the country, five from the first nine days of September 2005, about one month after a CN
derailment spilled oil at Wabamun Lake.
Two instances were from Edmonton. In one, the train had two added cars and two cars out of sequence, problems which weren't
discovered until it arrived in Jasper.
The other example said reports from Edmonton's Walker Yard between December 2004 and April 2005 continued to show numerous
instances of added cars and inaccuracies, including on trains with dangerous-goods cars. CN assured Transport Canada the safety
concerns raised in 2002 would be addressed.
But routine monitoring and nationwide audits showed the problem persisted, LeFort wrote. He issued a new notice and order on
September 14, 2005. Accidents can occur if trains are longer than expected, said Cathy Cossaboom, a Transport Canada
It's also vital for emergency responders to know the contents of each train car if there is a derailment.
CN spokesman Mark Hallman said the company met with Transport Canada and the Dangerous Goods Directorate a week ago to
ask the department to rescind its notice and order.
"CN has considerably improved the human element in recording train makeup," Hallman said. "Train journals are now 97 to 98
percent accurate. This has been achieved through the use of camera systems, audits and blitzes in CN's major yards, and driving
down of accountability to the employee responsible for making up a train at origin and reporting its makeup."
The company uses electronic scanners to check trains after they leave a rail yard, Hallman said. When the train has passed the
scanner, a comparison is made between the actual train makeup and the makeup report provided to the crew. If a deviation is found,
a clerk charged with ensuring train list integrity receives a colour-coded alarm highlighting the inaccuracy.
"We just feel the safety actions they've proposed at this point do not completely get rid of the safety concerns we have," Cossaboom
said Tuesday. A company that doesn't comply with a notice and order can be taken to court, she said.
Notice and order documents are not generally released to the public. The Journal obtained the CN documents from NDP
environment critic David Eggen.
"The allegations I have heard from workers, and that have been borne out by the documents I received, make me concerned for public
safety right across the line, not just in Edmonton-Calder where we have the yards, but for everyone living near CN's mainline across
the country," Eggen said.
A recent report from the Transportation Safety Board notes that rail accidents in 2005 increased nine per cent over 2004.
CN had 103 main-track derailments last year over 62.6 million kilometres travelled. That's 36 per cent higher than the previous year,
though the kilometres travelled only increased by six per cent.
Hallman said severity is not reflected in the board's statistics. "For example, 43 of CN's 103 main-train derailments in 2005 -- roughly
42 per cent -- involved minor one or two-car derailments with very minimal cost impact." The company is addressing its accident
performance through data analysis, increased track and equipment monitoring, and a focus on employee behaviour, rules
compliance, and management supervision, Hallman said.
Between January 1 and February 27, 2006, CN recorded five main-track derailments in Canada, compared to 26 during the
comparable period of 2005.
CP trains logged almost 5.6 million fewer kilometres than CN and had 66 main-track derailments in 2005.
"We experienced no spills of hazardous materials, no fatalities and no evacuations," said Ed Greenberg, a CP spokesman.
The Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the Aug. 3, 2005, derailment at Wabamun Lake. The board sent almost nine
metres of rail to laboratories for analysis. Federal and provincial environment agencies are conducting their own investigations and
are interested in the results, said Art Nordholm, a senior investigator with the board.
What is known is that the rail broke and had some anomalies in it. The testing is meant to find out what caused those anomalies,
whether it was manufacturing, stress or the tonnage of freight, Nordholm said.
It's possible the investigation could find out something new, which could be used by the railway industry as a whole, he said. Final
results would be available by the summer at the earliest, he said.
Source: Edmonton Journal
Fewer Humans, but more error
Railway accident rates up sharply in 2005
Click here to see statistics released by the Transportation Safety Board on railway accidents and occurrences for the year 2005