ALBERTA

CP Rail and CN review safety procedures after disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que.

07/18/2013 10:44 EDT | Updated 09/17/2013 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - The disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., has prompted Canada's two largest railways to review their own safety procedures.

Nearly two weeks ago, an unmanned train belonging to the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway carrying 72 cars of oil crashed into the town, setting off explosions that are believed to have killed up to 50 people.

Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) said Thursday it's strengthening some of its safety procedures following a review.

"The recent situation gave us a chance to thoroughly review our safety procedures, as we do on an ongoing basis," said Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for Canada's second-largest railway.

"The result is that we have now strengthened our operating procedures in some key areas that were identified from what recently occurred."

An internal staff memo from last week, obtained by the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star newspapers, said the changes were in anticipation of new Transport Canada rules.

Greenberg said if trains must be left unattended outside a terminal or yard, the locomotive will be locked. In the past, that was only the case in some "high risk" locations.

Brake-setting procedures — which Greenberg says already meet or exceed regulations — will also be strengthened. And trains carrying dangerous material will not be left unattended on main line tracks.

"Our railway continually reviews practices and procedures to identify ways to further strengthen operating safety," he said. "For CP, we felt implementing additional safety measures at this time was the prudent step to take."

A spokesman for Montreal-based Canadian National Railway (TSX:CNR) says the railroad is also reviewing its safety procedures in light of Lac-Megantic.

Mark Hallman said Canadian National — Canada's biggest railroad — already has "robust" policies in place to make sure its unattended trains are secure by relying on "multiple safety defences."

For instance, air brakes are applied on both locomotives and throughout the train and the hand brake is applied to the lead locomotive, Hallman said.

All locomotives are also secured to prevent movement. The reverser — like a gear shift in a car — is removed from the control stand, so that a train cannot move forward or backward.

All doors and windows are locked on locomotives, and two crew members continually communicate with one another to make sure everything is being done right.

CN locomotives also have a device that prompts a full-service brake application if it detects movement or no response from the control stand — something Greenberg said CP also uses.

Both CN and CP use two-person crews, whereas only one MM&A engineer was working when the Lac-Megantic disaster struck.

Without specifying any new rules that might be in the works, Transport Canada spokeswoman Kelly James said investigators must be given time to complete their investigation.

"Transport Canada has obtained a warrant and is gathering evidence to determine if rules and regulations under the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act have been followed," she wrote in an email.

"Railway safety regulations exist to ensure the safety and protection of the public. If these regulations were not followed, we will not hesitate to take whatever course of action is available to us."

Meanwhile, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic suffered a minor derailement Thursday when a cargo train carrying soy derailed in Farnham, Que., between Montreal and Lac-Megantic.

Authorities said one wheel went off the rail, and the incident did not occur on the main track.

A little over a week before Lac-Megantic, the safety of transporting dangerous goods by rail was brought to light in a separate incident.

Severe flooding in Calgary caused a Canadian Pacific-owned rail bridge to give way while a train carrying petroleum distillate was crossing it in the middle of the night.

Crews managed to secure the cars so that they didn't get swept away in the Bow River. They then drained the fluid and removed the cars from the broken bridge.

Though the incident was resolved without injuries or environmental damage, the close call caused Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to criticize Canadian Pacific.

In particular, Nenshi questioned whether recent layoffs at the railway under the leadership of new CEO Hunter Harrison could have contributed to the crisis.

Canadian Pacific announced in December that it would cut its workforce by some 4,500 positions by 2016 through a combination of layoffs and attrition.

But the railway has said the number of bridge inspectors has remained the same.

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