Saturday, July 07, 2007
CTA rules against CN railway
In a huge country like Canada, the railways are critically important. Confederation was made possible by our railways. We've always known that. But sometimes we wonder why B.C. Rail (now part of CN) was so important. Here's a snippet of news which reminds us of a railway's nation-building capabilities as well as the threat implied by TILMA if it succeeds in imposing future corporate wishes over provincial decisions. - BC Mary
CANADIAN TRANSPORTATION AGENCY RULES AGAINST CN
Victoria Times Colonist - July 7, 2007
... Rail service is a frequent sore spot for the Canadian grain industry, which ships its produce to ports that are more than 1,000 kilometres from the key Prairie growing region.
Canadian law compels CN and Canadian Pacific Railway to provide adequate service to shippers.
Rail car allocation used to be jointly set through an industry group, but in recent years it has become more directly negotiated with individual grain companies.
Railways have focused on serving large elevators on their east-west pipeline to try to make the complex grain handling system more efficient, said James Nolan, a transportation economist at the University of Saskatchewan.
But CN went too far with its current program, Nolan said, becoming what the CTA called "the arbiter of which of its captive shippers are eligible for a competitive advantage."
I just took the last 5 days and went out into the country for a rest. While out there I had met a spouse of a BC Rail employee. She passed onto me the shocking news that this company is replacing worn out track in in BC with Prairie Rails. This means that the track we are now using in BC is of a inferior grade and could be potentially fatal for railway workers in BC. The material is far less dense and would not be able to hold a trin decending a mountain. I am looking further into this matter and should be able to report more within a week.
Go back to the entry on this blog which quotes from CTV's investigative program, W-Five, and you'll see some similar reports about "flatland" trains meaning way too many rail cars which are OK for the prairies but not for the mountainous terrain such as around Lytton or Cheakamus Canyon.
I'll try to access it, too ... later.
Here's part of the story posted on The Legislature Raids on 11 February 2007 with the link at the end:
"The day before the accident [Don Faulkner, "Mr Safety"] was in the office with my daughter and said he was concerned about engines with no dynamic brakes on the heels. He was on the phone with someone and said, 'what has to happen to someone, [do] they have to be killed before they do something about it'," Hunt tells W-FIVE.
It turns out the locomotive wasn't equipped with a very important safety measure called dynamic brakes and that CN was running a flatland train along mountainous track.
"It's a unit that should never be used in the mountains, it's not designed for the type of work that [it] was being used for. It's a prairie engine," says Rhodes.
Even more troubling is the internal CN document that suggests the prairie engine was 'overdue for servicing' and that there were 'no [brake] shoes left.'
Rhodes and others believe dynamic brakes would have saved the lives of Tommy Dodd and Don Faulkner. "If that was a unit that had dynamic braking and it was working, we would not be talking today. And my two friends would still be alive," Rhodes tells W-FIVE.
CN's derailment record is disturbing. In 2005, CN had an astonishing 103 main-track derailments in communities across Canada. That's an average of one derailment every three-and-a-half days.
Forty-three CN cars went off the tracks at Lake Wabamun, Alberta, on August 3, 2005, spilling more than 700,000 litres of bunker oil and wood preservative into the pristine lake. The Alberta Government charged CN with "'failing to take all reasonable measures to remedy and confine a spill," for the Wabamun derailment.
Two days later, on August 5, 2005, another CN train derailed over the Cheakamus River, just outside Squamish, dumping more than 40,000 litres of caustic soda -- a highly corrosive chemical used by the pulp industry. The spill killed nearly half a million fish.
"What we saw were fish experiencing chemical burns....some of them were trying to almost jump out of the river. They were trying to avoid the burns," says Chessy Knight, an aquatic biologist and environmental coordinator for the Squamish district.
When BC Rail was running along this track, they were 80 to 100 cars in length. The CN train that derailed above the Cheakamus River had 144 cars. Longer trains mean bigger profits.
Long-time transportation consultant Greg Gormick says profit-seeking may be behind some of the CN derailments. "Cost cutting that's gone perhaps too far to satisfy investors," Gormick tells W-FIVE.
Cost cutting that is leading to safety problems -- at least that's what Rhodes thinks. "Every train going through this country right now, it's a dice roll with CN," he says.
W-FIVE wanted to talk to CN about their safety history. After weeks of negotiating an interview date, CN agreed to talk to us, on camera -- only to back out of the interview the day before. Instead, CN sent us a seven-page letter extolling their safety record and commitment to safety.
Railway insiders say CN is not the only one to blame, and that government must bear some responsibility for the spike in accidents. Changes to railway legislation have taken power away from government -- yielding more authority to railway companies to develop their own safety schemes. "This is about failed transportation policy," says Gormick.
In recent months, Ottawa appears to have taken a keen interest in the number and severity of derailments. First in November an inquiry was called to investigate rail accidents in B.C. Then in December Transport Canada announced plans for a full review of the Railway Safety Act.
But any review or inquiry may be redundant when the Government probably already has the information they need about CN and railway safety in Canada. A Transport Canada safety audit of CN's practices has been kept secret for some time.
The safety audit, ordered in August 2005, was promised to be made public by the Liberals. Completed last year, the safety audit findings have not been released by the Conservative government. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon says that's because CN doesn't want it made public. "I would want it to be made public but I can't," Cannon tells W-FIVE.
Please see the full story with photos at: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070209/wfive_derailments_070209/20070210?hub=WFive