After the train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Q.C., that killed approximately 50 people on July 6, 2013, the rail industry has taken a closer look at their safety procedures.
Although the incident in Quebec was not a Canadian National Railway Company (CN) incident, the company has taken several steps to improve safety.
Representatives of CN provided an update on the latest safety features of the company to the board of directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) on March 26, 2015.
“We’ve invested heavily in technology that lets us see problems with our trains ahead of having an incident,” said Lee Nelson, Senior Dangerous Goods Officer for CN’s western region.
Nelson explained that CN is run under a safety management system, which allows CN to ensure that the company has tools in place to identify deficiencies and even use them for their benefit.
“This allows us to identify what the problems are, come up with a root cause analysis and take advantage of them [problems],” he said. “If it’s a technology issue, we can leverage that; if it’s a training issue, we could bolster our employees’ knowledge.”
According to Nelson, many safety features are not visible to the general public.
“As the trains run along, we have detectors that are measuring bearing temperatures on all cars,” he said.
These detectors notify crew in the event of a warm bearing in the train, allowing crew to slow down the train or stop immediately. Historically, failed bearings have been a direct cause of derailments.
“We have other scanners out there known as wild sites, which are wheel impact load detector sites that we’ve put in place,” he added.
These detectors find wheels that are not perfectly round, measuring the force applied by the wheels to that railway. The equipment is able to identify which wheels in the train have a defect.
In addition, the company has added additional handbrakes in most locations.
As a carrier, CN is under a common carrier obligation, which means that CN cannot refuse shipments of dangerous goods. So the company has been improving safety by incentivizing customers to use the “newer and safer cars,” in an effort to phase out as many of the older cars as possible.
“If you ship with the newer and better cars we will give you a reduced rate,” explained Nelson.
In order to be better prepared for an incident, CN had a closed meeting with first responders and RDBN representatives on March 25, 2015. During the meeting, CN covered in depth what the response would be in case of a rail accident in the region. Although CN has the duty to respond to an accident, if the incident takes place within a municipality, CN has to work with the municipality and its first responders.
Nelson said all CN trains carrying dangerous goods have information available to the emergency responders including what’s in the containers, who shipped the product, where the product is going and the volume being carried. Should the crew not be able to get to the emergency responders, all this information is available digitally.
Dangerous goods transported through Burns Lake include gasoline, diesel fuel and propane. On July 30, 2014, a CN train derailed near Decker Lake Forest Products due to a collision with a loaded logging truck. The crash and derailment saw the involvement of 22 intermodal cars and two locomotives, but not the entire train.
There were no life threatening injuries but the driver of the logging truck was taken to the hospital.