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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.
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.
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.
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 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.