Canadian Senate committee calls for review of railway systems; TSB Canada eyes PTC

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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Alasdair McLellan, via Wikimedia Commons

A Canadian Senate committee is recommending a review of the country's practices regarding dangerous goods, while the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is turning its eyes toward the possibility of implementing positive train control (PTC) systems on its railroads.


In a report titled “Moving Energy Safely: A Study of the Safe Transport of Hydrocarbons by Pipelines, Tankers and Railcars,” Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources is asking the federal government to initiate a review of the country’s railway regulatory framework, standards and industry practices “to meaningfully advance the safe transportation of dangerous goods by rail in Canada.”

The report makes 13 recommendations related to energy transport and calls on Transport Canada to implement all the recommendations from the December 2011 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development related to the transport of dangerous goods. Additionally it recommends Transport Canada, in cooperation with its U.S regulatory counterpart to find ways to accelerate the phase-out of the CTC-111A and DOT-111 tank cars. Finally, the report calls on Transport Canada to apply minimum liability coverage thresholds to rail companies to ensure they have the financial capacity to cover damages caused by a major accident.

“The goal of our study was to examine the current state of emergency and spill prevention, preparedness and response frameworks under federal authority and to make recommendations to improve public safety and the protection of the environment,” said Senator Richard Neufeld, chair of the committee. “We’ve been working on these issues for the last nine months and the shocking Lac-Mégantic rail disaster has only intensified the need to address hydrocarbon transportation safety. In the years ahead, hydrocarbon production will continue to grow and so will transport capacity. That’s why we believe Canadians need to know more about what the federal government has in place to protect citizens and the environment, and what more can be done to enhance current practices.”

In other Canadian rail transportation news, the TSB of Canada is considering PTC on Canadian railroads as a result of the recent disaster in Lac-Mégantic, according to a report on the United Transportation Union’s website.

In addition to the recent accident in Lac-Mégantic, Canada had two major derailments in 2010 and 2012 that were linked to trainmen not following signal indications and either missed or misinterpreted signals because both trains were traveling at excessive speeds while switching tracks.

Director of TSB rail and pipeline investigations Kirby Jang explains, “In Canada, we have a system called centralized traffic control, which provides visual signals, but there is no automated stopping or slowing of trains if the train crew were to exceed the limits of their authority.

“We believe that there’s a risk of serious train collisions and derailments if rail signals are not consistently recognized and followed. Really, what we’re trying to advocate is that further safety defenses should be implemented to ensure that signal indications of operating speed or operating limits are consistently recognized and followed. That’s a key finding and recommendation out of Burlington,” Jang said.

According to Jang, there are ongoing discussions about PTC systems, which would automatically reduce a train’s speed if it were moving too fast. The TSB is also looking at placing video and voice recording systems inside the cabs of locomotives as a source of data in the event of another derailment or train disaster like the one in Lac-Mégantic.

The TSB can only make recommendations to Transport Canada; it is then up to Transport Canada to decide whether or not they want to act on the recommendations made by the TSB.

Categories: C&S, Class 1, Safety/Training, Shortline/Regional