|Transport Canada releases CN Safety Audit following access to information request
|Transport Canada conducted a safety audit of CN following two significant derailments in Western Canada in 2005 - Lake Wabamun, Alberta and the
Cheakamus Canyon in B.C. These and the numerous other derailments generated considerable public outrage and subsequent government and media
scrutiny. The safety audit, completed last year, was promised to be made public by the then governing Liberal Party. Today's Conservative government would
not release the audit. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon defended this decision saying CN didn’t want the audit made public. However, CBC News filed an
access to information request that resulted in the audit being released publicly on Friday, March 2nd.
Winnipeg NDP Member of Parliament Bill Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona) prepared a petition for Canadians to sign and to be presented to the House of
Commons calling on Parliament to demand Transport Canada release the contents of this audit to the public. The petition was made available on
The audit is quite extensive and was issued in two parts:
part one being an inspection of CN’s operations and, part two being an audit of CN’s safety management systems.
Transport Canada made 11 recommendations for change, eight of which they said CN has already moved to address, but added that the Company must move
further in making necessary improvements.
Transport Canada found a long list of problems in their safety audit of CN, including faulty equipment, improper safety practices and a high rate of safety
defects on locomotives. Some of the problems found by investigators include:
- "A significantly high rate of safety defects" in CN's equipment, defects that could cause a derailment, personal injury or property/environmental damage;
- Fifty-four (54%) per cent of inspected locomotives had safety defects, and more than one-third violated the Canada Labour Code (including out of date
fire extinguishers, incomplete first aid kits and missing protective covers on electrical equipment);
- A number of different system and brake gear defects and defects with rail cars, including 27 occurrences of an "unsecured plug type door;"
- Twenty-six (26%) per cent of inspected level crossings had inadequate sightlines. There were also problems with surface conditions;
- In many locations, track was not in compliance;
- Employees felt pressured, and (then) current practices allowed locomotives to continue in service despite defects.
CN complained to Transport Canada that the findings were inaccurate and misleading, blaming the “unstructured manner in which employees were
CN's derailment record is disturbing. In 2005, CN had an astonishing 103 mainline track derailments in communities across Canada. That's an average of
one derailment every three-and-a-half days. The two biggest derailments were the Lake Wabamun and Cheakamus Canyon accidents in Alberta and B.C.
On August 3, 2005, 43-rail cars jumped the track on CN's mainline approximately 65 kilometres west of Edmonton at Wabamun, Alberta. Twenty-six of the cars
that derailed were tank cars that spilled massive amounts of slick bunker fuel oil, which is heavy oil used in asphalt production and to power ships and barges,
spilling both onto land and into Lake Wabamun. Two days later, a second train plunged into the Cheakamus Canyon in B.C. spilling large amounts of caustic
soda into the Cheakamus River.
In February, CTV’s news information program, W-FIVE, reported on CN’s safety record in a segment called “Off the Rails.” CLICK HERE TO WATCH
W-FIVE wanted to interview CN for this segment about their safety history, but following weeks of negotiating an interview date, W-FIVE reported that CN backed
out of the interview the day before it was scheduled. Instead, CN sent W-FIVE a seven-page letter from Company CEO and President Hunter Harrison,
praising their overall safety record and commitment to safety.
This past Saturday, March 3rd, one day after the release of Transport Canada’s safety audit, CN experienced another derailment where one-third of a 90-car
train derailed near Blue River, B.C. CN spokesman Jim Feeny said in a news interview that “Saturday's accident did not cause any injuries or environmental
damage.” The train was carrying grain from various points in the Prairies to the Port of Vancouver.