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Rail News: Mechanical

CN derailment prompts TSB to recommend track inspection changes

Aerial view of the derailment site.
Photo – Transportation Safety Board of Canada

Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) yesterday recommended that Transport Canada incorporate predictive data on rail surface conditions to help improve track inspections.

The board's recommendation was part of its investigation into the March 2015 derailment and fire involving a CN freight train near Gogama, Ontario, TSB officials said in a press release.

On March 7, 2015, a CN unit train transporting 94 tank cars loaded with petroleum crude oil derailed on CN's Ruel Subdivision near Gogama. Although the train was traveling below the 50 mph speed limit, 39 tank cars derailed, spilling about 686,000 gallons of oil that ignited, caught fire and contaminated the nearby Makami River.

The incident also destroyed a CN rail bridge and 1,000 feet of track. No one was injured.

"The investigation found that certain data on deteriorating rail surface conditions are not always considered by Transport Canada (TC) when it plans its inspections," said TSB Chairwoman Kathy Fox. "By integrating data on these 'leading indicators' —which could be predictive of future rail failures — the targeted inspections would be better focused."

Investigators learned that the derailment occurred after a recently repaired rail within a joint broke under the train. Three days before the derailment, a track maintenance worker repaired a broken rail by installing a plug rail. The employee cut the defective rail out of the track, visually inspected the remaining exposed rail ends and installed the plug rail.

Fox noted that Canadian railways regularly inspect their track networks for specified rail defects.

"Railways gather information, including data on leading indicators — such as localized surface collapse, rail end batter and crushed heads — and TC needs to acquire this information," Fox said. "Without it, the targeted TC track inspections simply won't be as effective as they otherwise could be."

In response to the TSB report and recommendations, CN spokesman Patrick Waldron issued the following statement:

Safety is a core value at CN, and we learn from each incident. Our goal is to be the safest railroad in North America. This was a very unfortunate incident, the result of a broken rail, and we apologize to the residents of Gogama and the Mattagami First Nation for the impacts to their community.
Following the 2015 incidents, CN took a series of concrete actions to improve safety in Northern Ontario and across CN's network, including implementing stronger engineering standards for such rail repairs and inspections, better track maintenance processes for similar work tasks, and improved classroom and field training for all track workers. Nearly 450 track supervisors and track workers have gone through enhanced classroom and hands-on field training to provide them expanded knowledge and tools to better identify track issues and properly complete necessary repairs. Among those tools are enhanced critical task checklists for various track repairs and maintenance, including dye penetrant tests. 
We have expanded our use of technology to analyze, monitor and inspect track across the CN network. We continue to invest to maintain, improve and protect our infrastructure. Since 2015, CN has invested nearly [CA]$400 million in our rail infrastructure across Northern Ontario, including installing 200 miles of new rail.
CN remains committed to the environmental cleanup of the Makami River and surrounding area and will not leave until that cleanup is complete and then will continue to monitor conditions for many years. We've provided the community regular updates throughout the clean-up and monitoring process as we worked with world-renowned experts from across Canada and the United States to clean up the spill and restore the natural habitat. This summer, environmental clean-up work is continuing at the Makami River site with the flushing of residual oil from the track embankment. River water quality testing results continue to meet strict government standards.


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