More Unreported Derailments in Canada – How Safe are Our Railroads?

•April 18, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded derailment Lac Megantic pic 2The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has recently discovered more than 100 rail incidents that were not reported by Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railway and Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (CBC News).

The TSB recently received a large number of records from CN Rail, dating back a number of years, including accidents or incidents that should have been reported to the TSB when they occurred. This is in addition to the over 1,800 derailments and other accidents that CN did not report over a 6-year period, as revealed by a CBC investigation several months ago.

The TSB also became concerned about CP Rail in early 2013 after discovering the company changed how it was reporting accidents. Based on a request by the TSB for more information, CP came back with another 150 occurrences that should have been reported when they took place. Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway, the company responsible for the July 2013 Lac-Megantic oil train disaster that killed 47 people, also failed to report accidents including a number of uncontrolled runaway trains.

A few weeks ago, University of Calgary economist Jennifer Winter called on the federal government to provide better public access to rail safety data in the wake of a string of fiery derailments and explosions in Canada and the U.S. involving crude oil and other dangerous goods. Winter said, “This rash of disasters has led the public and policy-makers to question how safe are Canadian railroads?…Accuracy of data is important because mis-measured data can give a false sense of the true state of rail safety in Canada.” A rail company has never been fined in Canada for failing to report derailments and other accidents.

The public is quickly losing confidence in Canadian railways because of their cavalier approach to reporting derailments and other accidents. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for hundreds of additional examples. Transporting crude oil and other dangerous goods by rail will become even more hazardous as the volume of tank car traffic increases significantly over the coming months and years.

Canadian National Railway Hypocritical about Competition from the U.S.

•April 4, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded rant imageIt’s mind-boggling lately to listen to Montreal-based Canadian National Railway CEO Claude Mongeau ranting and raving about the proposed new Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act. This is the legislation introduced last week by the federal government to level the playing field between Canada’s 2 rail giants, CN and CP, and Canadian grain farmers whose crops have been piling up at grain elevators because CN and CP have been making more money hauling crude oil, other petroleum products and other dangerous goods.

One of the many elements of the new legislation that upsets Mongeau has to do with extending interswitching limits. Under current legislation, a shipper who is served by only one railway is entitled to transfer its shipments to another railway at a regulated rate if the shipper’s facility is located within a 30-kilometre radius of where the 2 railways connect. The new legislation would extend that limit to 160 kilometres in an effort to increase competition and give shippers access to additional services from other rail companies. Mongeau has said, “This action could hit Canada’s railways by opening their business to unfair poaching by U.S. railways without any reciprocity. Besides causing financial harm to CN, it could drain traffic away from Canadian ports.” (Calgary Herald)

Wait a minute…is this really what the head of CN said? Isn’t CN characterized by the private sector and stock analysts as one of the shining examples of that good old private sector mantra that the “private sector always does it better than the public sector”? And isn’t “competition is good for the marketplace” part of that mantra? After all, it’s competition that helps ensure customers aren’t held hostage by private sector monopolies. For Mongeau to demonize competition from U.S. railways as “poaching”, appears hypocritical. And besides, why shouldn’t U.S.-based Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) have an opportunity to offer a competitive (and perhaps superior) service to some Canadian grain farmers and shippers, especially if that means Canadian grain makes it to market faster and grain farmers get a better price (Edmonton Journal)? Canadian National Railway certainly has done its fair share of moving into the U.S. rail market, including buying out or taking over Illinois Central Corporation; Wisconsin Central; Great Lakes Transportation LLC; and Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, isn’t it? It should be noted that many Americans are upset about these takeovers by CN because they claim that CN is not as good a corporate neighbour as the companies they took over.

To further add to the discussion and in case readers have forgotten, Canadian National Railway isn’t as Canadian as one might think. After Canadians spent billions of dollars (in taxes) building the public Canadian National Railway into the largest railway that successfully serviced shippers and passengers across our country, the federal Liberals sold CN Rail to American investors in 1995 for a paltry sum of about $2.2 billion. U.S. financial experts saw this sell off as “The Mother of All Deals” and a huge windfall for the private sector. It was characterized as a “gift” to foreign investors. What do you think now about Mongeau’s rants about that nasty U.S. rail industry potentially “poaching” business in Canada? (See this link for more information on the 1995 privatization of CN.)

Outdated DOT-111 Rail Tank Cars Need to be Replaced Faster

•April 2, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded derailment Lac Megantic pic 1In the aftermath of numerous recent oil train derailments, including the worst last July in Lac-Megantic that killed 47 people, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada renewed its call yesterday for the speedy phase-out of older DOT-111 tank cars that have been known for decades to puncture easily and spill their hazardous products during derailments and collisions. TSB Chair Wendy Tadros told a House of Commons committee “A long and gradual phase-out of older-model cars simply isn’t good enough”, particularly considering the skyrocketing number of tank cars carrying crude oil and other dangerous petroleum products. Tadros also said the Lac-Megantic tragedy has led to an “erosion of public trust” in rail safety.

The U.S. Railway Supply Institute, which represents tank car owners and lessors, had estimated a few months ago that it could take 10 years to modify the older tank cars, but more recently suggested the highest-risk cars could be modified in less time. Quebec-based Canadian National Railway has recently said it will take 4 years before it stops using its small fleet of outdated DOT-111s that it owns and leases. Canadian Pacific Railway said it was finalizing a plan to retrofit its small fleet of older tank cars. The vast majority of the 228,000 older DOT-111s still running on the tracks in Canada and the U.S. are owned by energy companies and other shippers of hazardous goods. At least 70% of the tank cars on North American tracks are the older-model DOT-111s.

Although new tank cars that are manufactured must meet new safety standards, the fact that the vast majority of tank cars rolling through our towns and cities are outdated DOT-111s, the kind that ruptured, exploded and caught fire in Lac-Megantic last year, worries municipalities and anyone who lives near railway tracks. Windsor, Ontario Councillor Warren Cosford was recently quoted saying, “We have oil tanker cars that are not designed to carry petroleum, and they’re rolling past my house.” Anywhere from 80 to 120 oil tank cars move through Windsor every day. Many other cities and towns in North America have similar fears.

Rail safety regulators in Canada and the U.S. are being criticized for not seriously addressing the tank car safety issue fast enough, especially since recommendations have been made for over 2 decades to make improvements. How many more disasters like the one in Lac-Megantic will it take before the DOT-111 bomb train cars are replaced or retrofitted? If left to industry, it will take many years before there are major improvements, because replacing or retrofitting the older cars will affect the bottom line for too many companies.

Canada Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has 90 days to respond to the latest recommendations from the TSB. Sources for this story include: CBC NewsReutersEdmonton JournalCalgary Sun.

Increase in Rail Accidents, Fatalities and Spills Over Previous Year

•March 29, 2014 • Comments Off

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada released 2013 transportation safety statistics on March 26, which show a 53% increase in rail-related fatalities over the previous year and a 67% higher number of deaths than the 5-year average. There were 127 rail-related fatalities in 2013, 83 in 2012 and the 5-year average is 76.

Railroaded petroleum derailment fire image july 6 2013 Nat GeoA total of 1,067 rail accidents were reported to the TSB in 2013, up 4% from 1,027 reported in 2012.

Reported rail accidents (derailments and collisions) involving dangerous goods also increased from 119 in 2012 to 144 in 2013, an increase of 21%. Of those accidents, 7 resulted in the spilling or release of dangerous goods, up 250% from 2012 and 133% higher than the 5-year average.

Of the 218 railway incidents reported in 2013, dangerous goods spilled or leaked 94 times, 24% higher than the 5-year average of 76. (Rail “incidents” do not involve derailments or collisions.)

It is important to note that many railway accidents and incidents are intentionally not reported to the TSB. For example, a recent CBC investigation found that Canadian National Railway did not report 1,843 derailments and other accidents to the TSB over a 6-year period. A former TSB Director has questioned whether CN is properly reporting all accidents today. It has been suggested there are incentives at CN to under-report derailments and other accidents. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for hundreds of additional examples of railway accidents.

CEO Doesn’t Want Government to Mess with Canadian National Railway’s Monopoly

•March 29, 2014 • Comments Off

The Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act tabled March 26 by the federal government has stirred a growing debate about the rail transport monopolies in Canada, held by Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway (Edmonton JournalCalgary Herald). The legislation has been introduced in an attempt to help level the playing field between Canadian grain farmers and the 2 rail giants which have been accused of letting grain pile up at elevators across the prairies while hauling more lucrative oil and other dangerous goods shipments.

Transport of a bumper grain crop has been backlogged for months and has seen farmers lose between $2 billion and $3.5 billion in sales so far. As a result, grain farmers lobbied the federal and provincial governments to help address this backlog to prevent further damage to Canada’s agricultural economy. Earlier in March, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive to railways giving them 4 weeks to double their grain shipments to a combined target of 1 million metric tonnes/week or face fines of up to $100,000 per day. The new act extends that directive to August 3, 2014, gives the federal government the power in the future to set minimum grain transport volume requirements, and lets a shipper who is served by only 1 rail company switch its traffic to another railway at a regulated rate under certain conditions.

Some farm groups and provincial governments, including the Alberta government and the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, have applauded the new federal legislation; while others, such as the Saskatchewan government, Alberta Barley and Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, don’t think the legislation goes far enough. The Saskatchewan government thinks that the penalty payments should be higher and should go to farmers rather than federal coffers, and that minimum volume numbers should be boosted.

Railroaded CN logo oldMontreal-based CN CEO Claude Mongeau has lashed out at the federal government, calling the legislation unfair and heavy-handed. He has suggested the bill could undermine rail viability and accused the government of unfairly penalizing railways to satisfy the demands of the vocal farming constituency. Several farming group leaders said Mongeau’s comments prove that we need more competition in Canada’s rail industry.

Mongeau is well known for his hyperbolic language whenever he defends the commercial marketplace and CN’s profitability. The fact is, CN’s actions have hurt an important sector of Canada’s economy. Mongeau made similarly exaggerative comments in response to the federal government’s Fair Rail Freight Service Act which was passed last June to level the playing field between freight shippers and the 2 rail giants because rail service had been deteriorating over the years as CN and CP cut operating costs to boost their bottom lines. In short, CN’s and CP’s profits were increasing, while customer service was decreasing, and unfortunately shippers were at the mercy of the 2 rail companies.

Study on Railway Diesel Emissions and Coal Train Air Quality

•March 26, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded diesel exhaust photoRail and Reason recently reported on a University of Washington study that confirms people who live close to rail lines are exposed to increased levels of harmful microscopic particles from carcinogenic locomotive diesel emissions and to increased inhalation of larger particles of harmful coal dust from passing coal trains. The full story at Rail and Reason’s website is definitely worth reading.

Rail and Reason’s article concludes with the following questions: “What impacts are diesel emissions from railways having on people breathing the air around it? What’s the impact of rail-transported coal on health and the environment? And how does the mixture of both fine particulate matter from diesel emissions and larger particulate matter from coal dust from trains affect communities overall?”

Federal Government Shares Blame for Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster

•March 18, 2014 • Comments Off

Although it was Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MM&A) Railway that received most of the public attention following the derailment last July in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the Canadian federal government shares the blame for the death of 47 people, the spilling of at least 5.5 million litres of crude oil, destruction of much of downtown Lac-Megantic, and significant damages to the local environment.

Under intense lobbying and pressure from the rail industry in Canada, primarily Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway, the federal government has been Railroaded monopoly photoderegulating rail safety for several decades. This is particularly the case since CN was privatized in 1995. CN and CP have argued that the private rail industry, operating within the commercial market framework, is in the best position to manage safety on the tracks. The fact is, while CN, CP and other rail company profits have been skyrocketing and shareholders have been laughing all the way to the bank, safety corners have been cut significantly in order to enhance the bottom line. Transport Canada has all but relinquished its legislative regulatory responsibilities for rail safety to the rail companies. Rail companies have been left to inspect their own trains and tracks and monitor their own safety procedures. As Railroaded has written earlier, that’s like letting the fox guard the hen house.

Railroaded fox guarding hen house 2 imageIn 2011, the Auditor General said, “Transport Canada has not designed and implemented the management practices needed to effectively monitor regulatory compliance” of dangerous goods transport. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has repeatedly recommended dozens of improvements and changes required to address the many derailments and other accidents investigated by the TSB; however, the rail industry and Transport Canada have consistently ignored these recommendations and warnings – at worst, or have relegated them to exhaustive review – at best.

Recently, wrote, “The Quebec tragedy has given rise to a series of investigations and class-action law suits in Canada that have further revealed the consistent privileging of corporate profits over basic safety precautions by various governments and regulatory bodies. A CBC report last month revealed how freight carriers had asked the Canadian federal government to remove the requirement to inspect railcars carrying dangerous goods just one month before the horrific events at Lac-Megantic. Although the rail companies quickly withdrew their request in the wake of the tragedy, it has been revealed that for years the government has secretly granted them special exemptions from safety regulations.”

Railroaded Transport Canada logo imageSurvivors of the Lac-Megantic disaster have alleged, in a class-action lawsuit filed against the federal government, that Transport Canada: was aware of 129 accidents involving MM&A rolling stock, knew that MM&A was the most-unsafe railway operator in North America, failed to prevent MM&A from shipping dangerous goods despite knowledge of the company’s deplorable track conditions, permitted the use of a single train operator despite red flags around this procedure, was aware of previous instances where insufficient braking had been practiced on MM&A trains, and failed to ensure MM&A carried adequate accident insurance.

Railroaded lapdog image manSarnia, Ontario Mayor Mike Bradley recently told reporters the persistent cost-cutting and risk-taking were part of a strategy to increase shareholder profits at the expense of safety. “These railcars are rolling through the hearts of communities right across the country and the level of anxiety is very high. Transport Canada needs to become the watchdog, not the lapdog of the rail industry. My own observation from over the years is there’s almost an incestuous relationship between the industry, Transport Canada and the government of the day.” Railroaded certainly agrees with this assessment, based on our personal experiences dealing with CN, Transport Canada and federal Conservative MPs and Cabinet Ministers, where we have been unsuccessful in resolving safety issues surrounding the building of a rail yard by Cando Contracting Ltd., CN and Imperial Oil to store tank cars full of petroleum residue right next to homes and wildlife conservation areas.


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