OTTAWA — CN Rail has removed a safety requirement for the Lagimodiere Boulevard overpass just six weeks after grain cars leaned over the edge after a derailment.
In a notice obtained by the Free Press, CN told all its Winnipeg employees on Dec. 12 that train crews no longer need to have air brakes set up when crossing between the Symington and Paddington railyards.
Air brakes allow trains to stop faster than other methods, but they are less effective in cold conditions, and they take time to pressurize.
A dozen empty grain cars left the rails on Nov. 1, some leaning over the side of the overpass as midday traffic continued below.
Last week, CN reclassified that stretch of track as part of "yard service," as it links the two rail yards.
Sources familiar with Winnipeg rail operations, who aren’t authorized to speak publicly, said the move saves time but removes an added safety tool.
CN Rail would not provide its rationale for the change, but said federal operating rules do not require trains to use air at that location.
"Safety is a core value at CN and the company shares the public’s interest in ensuring its operations are safe," spokesman Alexandre Boulé wrote in an email.
He noted the train involved in the Nov. 1 incident had air-pressurized brakes, and said trains operating on that section of track have their speed capped at 24 kilometres per hour.
CN didn’t send a copy of the notice to employees to Transport Canada, but the regulator said it was aware of the change.
"Safety is a core value at CN and the company shares the public’s interest in ensuring its operations are safe." –Alexandre Boulé, CN spokesman
Teamsters Canada Rail Conference — the union representing CN workers — declined to comment.
A historic amount of oil is crossing the Prairies by rail, according to internal documents obtained by the Free Press earlier this year. Last week, a CP train carrying crude through Saskatchewan derailed, resulting in an explosion that that burned for 24 hours.
Previously, the Free Press revealed CN workers in Manitoba have been crammed into over-capacity bunkhouses and short-changed on sleep periods.
In 2015, the railway suspended its alarm for runaway trains in Winnipeg for at least three months due to faulty software, prompting a rebuke from the Transportation Safety Board.
In an unrelated April report, the arms-length TSB recommended that Ottawa beef up inspection of air brakes for aging grain cars after three CP Rail crew members were killed in a derailment in the Rockies.
Updated on Thursday, December 19, 2019 at 6:02 PM CST: Fixes typos.