Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/3/2019 (272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Five years ago, CN Rail flagged the problem of train cars separating from each other near St. Lazare, Man., the site of a derailment last month in which 820,000 litres of crude oil were spilled.
A risk assessment filed by CN Rail to Transport Canada in April 2014 reveals the railway had identified six safety vulnerabilities in Manitoba in the wake of the deadly train crash in Lac-Megantic, Que., in which 47 people died.
Two of them involve the area near the Feb. 16 incident in which an eastbound oil train headed for Winnipeg derailed near the town of St. Lazare, which is about 300 kilometres west of Winnipeg. Thirty-five of its 108 tank cars left the tracks, and half of them leaked oil.
The 2014 report shows CN Rail had flagged an issue with "moderate train separation activity" at a spot about 20 kilometres away from the derailment site.
While the Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the St. Lazare derailment, it has noted that the train initiated its automated emergency brakes, which can occur when cars start to separate, including due to hanging parts. The safety board has taken pieces of the track to Ottawa for closer inspection.
The derailment occurred between two bridges that CN said in its 2014 report required dragging-equipment detectors. The device sits between the tracks and sends a message when an object such as a pipe or chain hanging from the train’s underside hits it.
The report called for such a device on a truss bridge near the Saskatchewan border — 10 kilometres to the west of the derailment site — which it deemed a top priority. It also called for a device on a smaller bridge in the village of Uno, 15 kilometres east of the derailment site. Each device would cost $30,000.
CN Rail spokesman Jonathan Abecassis would not specify whether any dragging-equipment detectors had been deployed to the areas that had been flagged in the 2014 report.
"CN’s dangerous goods team regularly reviews the types and quantities of dangerous goods traffic transported across each province and conducts an analysis of the response measures required and resources available to respond everywhere at any time," he wrote.
"When our analysis reveals an area where we can improve, our teams work quickly to address the issue, as they did in the examples you mentioned."
Closer to Winnipeg, the 2014 report noted that CN needed a dangerous goods transfer trailer in Winnipeg to shift an intact dangerous load that had been involved in an accident onto a truck. CN estimated the cost at $220,000. The idea was mentioned again in a different report seven months later.
The April 2014 report also called for a $137,000 foam trailer, which would be used to fight a fire containing flammable goods in Winnipeg.
Abecassis said both the dangerous goods transfer trailer and the foam trailer were deployed in Winnipeg after this report had called for those changes.
The report also called for a dragging-equipment detector along the CN line that crosses the Red River Floodway and runs adjacent to the Trans-Canada Highway. The detector would cost $30,000 and was marked as a top priority, noting the environmental implications of a spill.
CN would not confirm if it had installed the device at that location.
Updated on Monday, March 18, 2019 at 9:21 AM CDT: Typo fixed.