Canadian National Railway Failed to Report Hundreds of Derailments
An in-depth investigation by CBC News into rail safety has uncovered information that CN Railway intentionally did not report more than 1,840 derailments and other accidents, including 44 derailments on main lines (CBC News).
After the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada issued a statutory summons to CN Railway in June 2006 to turn over its complete safety records, the TSB found unreported over a 6-year period: 1,700 non-main track derailments, 44 main-track derailments, 64 non-main track collisions, 1 main-track collision, 1 fire/explosion, 1 crossing accident, and 32 other accidents.
A TSB Director said that, based on initial discussions with CN in 2005 about CN’s suspicious safety reporting, he “was not happy at all with someone from industry (CN) telling me what should be reported and what should not be reported.”
The TSB was certainly correct in issuing CN with a summons for the complete accident data, and they subsequently entered the new CN data into its internal database. Unfortunately, the TSB did not reveal this unreported and hidden information to the public, and unfortunately did not sanction CN for its years of under-reporting. Olivia Chow, federal NDP Transport Critic, recently said, “If there’s no consequences from hiding the truth, why wouldn’t companies continue to hide?”
The CBC reports that the TSB Director, who now works as a consultant, believes CN’s system of bonuses and rewards could well influence the way CN staff report accident rates. “I think the rewards system is ‘the less accidents you report, the better’, ” he said, but that’s “not the way it should be in an optimal safety culture.” The former TSB Director questions whether CN today is properly reporting all accidents.
An associate professor at the York University Schulich School of Business reviewed CN’s bonus structure and said, “Senior management has clear incentives to reduce actual safety violations. In the short run, there may be some incentive to under-report safety violations with the hope that such problems can be fixed before customers and shareholders find out.”
CN Railway has also come under close scrutiny in the U.S. for not complying with regulators. In 2009, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a U.S. Department of Transportation agency, found a consistent failure by CN to correctly identify and repair defects. In 2010, the FRA imposed a 2-year compliance agreement on CN to improve mechanical inspections by adequately trained and resourced personnel, with a focus on safety.
Railroaded has also previously reported on CN’s under-reporting of blockages at railroad crossings along a 198-mile-long rail line between Illinois and Indiana. Auditors at the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) found 83 times the number of blockages at crossings reported by CN (1,157 vs 14) in a 2-month period in 2009. CN knowingly violated the STB’s orders that CN accurately report, on a regular basis, blockages at rail crossings exceeding 10 minutes in duration. The STB fined Canadian National Railway $250,000 for the violation, which was the first fine ever imposed on a railroad by the STB.
CN is currently being sued by a number of former CN employees for allegedly manipulating safety and performance data, criminal misconduct, providing shareholders with false information, and for other irregularities. See this link for details.
Rail safety experts and the public are beginning to wonder what other CN Railway irregularities may be uncovered. One would think that CN’s customers and shareholders must also be wondering.