December 15, 2019

Winnipeg
-16° C, Ice crystals

Full Forecast

CN didn't report track fires to the Transportation Safety Board

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/7/2018 (512 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Canadian National Railway did not report the string of brush fires along its track in Winnipeg this spring to the Transportation Safety Board, the independent agency responsible for investigating rail accidents and occurrences.

In the aftermath of those fires, which witnesses and video footage suggest were sparked by a CN train, it appears the rail giant was allowed to self-report and self-investigate the incident as it saw fit.

While the relevant legislation states a railway occurrence "must be reported" to the TSB when a train’s "rolling stock... causes or sustains a fire," CN – left to make the call for itself – did not report the fires which broke out along its track in Winnipeg on May 6.

Firefighters and police were on scene on Wilkes to fight a brush fire Sunday, May 6, 2018.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Firefighters and police were on scene on Wilkes to fight a brush fire Sunday, May 6, 2018.

That day, five fires broke out in the immediate aftermath of a single CN train making its way through the city, from St. Boniface, down through The Forks and out south Charleswood. The fires threatened numerous businesses and homes, burning down trees, fencing, building materials and Manitoba Hydro poles in the process.

Had CN notified the TSB, it appears an independent investigation would have been triggered. Instead, CN conducted its own investigation into the incident, announcing this week it found no evidence its operations sparked the fires – despite video footage, eye witnesses and fire department reports that suggest otherwise.In an internal Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service email obtained by the Free Press through a freedom of information request, Chief John Lane hinted it was likely the railway company would find itself not at fault.

"I have been warned that CN has a pattern in other province of denying responsibility," Lane wrote.

Roslyn Silver, a resident of Shaftesbury Park Retirement Residence, which was evacuated as the fire raged and burned down fencing at the home, said she was speechless after reading in the Free Press Friday morning that CN was denying responsibility. She added she wasn't the only resident of the retirement community shocked by CN's findings.

"I had to laugh when I saw it. We were right there. We saw what happened. Everyday we see sparks flying from the railway tracks. We were there when the fire started. How can they deny it? I had to laugh at the stupidity of it," Silver, 96, said.

A Canadian goose sits on its nest, which is right in the middle of a burned area by the CN tracks along Wilkes Avenue in Winnipeg on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A Canadian goose sits on its nest, which is right in the middle of a burned area by the CN tracks along Wilkes Avenue in Winnipeg on Tuesday, May 8, 2018.

Silver said during the evacuation residents with mobility issues had to be carried down multiple flights of stairs by the staff to escape the building.

"My friend, who's in a wheelchair, had to be carried down when people were evacuated, obviously, she couldn't manage the stairs on her own. She's 85 and she said it was frightening for her, because she wasn't mobile and had to depend on others."

When reached for comment, a TSB spokesman said it remained unclear whether CN contravened legislation by choosing to not notify the agency.

"In this case, no occurrence notification was received, and the circumstances regarding whether a notification should have been made is unknown. You may wish to contact the railway company to obtain more information on this occurrence," a TSB spokesman wrote in an email.

When contacted by the Free Press, CN confirmed it had not notified the TSB of the incident, providing no further comment.

This map show the locations of the fires on May 6 that WFPS acting Deputy Chief Tom Wallace said were 'likely all related and associated with rail activity' in an email obtained by the Free Press. (Winnipeg Free Press/ Mapbox)

This map show the locations of the fires on May 6 that WFPS acting Deputy Chief Tom Wallace said were 'likely all related and associated with rail activity' in an email obtained by the Free Press. (Winnipeg Free Press/ Mapbox)

Helen Vassilakos, co-founder of Safe Rail, a national advocacy organization, wasn’t surprised to learn CN had failed to notify the TSB, saying there is a culture of self-regulation in Canada’s rail industry.

"Everything is voluntary, essentially. They’ve been given this responsibility and our federal government has not been doing enough to ensure what’s supposed to be done is being done," Vassilakos said.

"Whenever there’s an incident like this I would encourage people to report it. The Transportation Safety Board should be taking a look at this, or at the very least be notified. If residents think these incidents are being caused by a train then they should be reporting it, because (CN) isn't."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

Read full biography

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.