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'Unsafe' marshalling practices on long, heavy trains can cause derailments, Canadian safety board says


Yesterday, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) issued another warning about the risks posed by the “unsafe operation” of longer and heavier trains.

Board members believe certain marshalling practices on long, heavy trains have led to more than 10 derailments, including a CN train derailment near Brighton, Ontario, last year.

“The way in which this train was marshalled created high in-train forces much like an accordion. Pulling forces separate cars and pushing forces compress them together," said Rob Johnston, TSB’s acting director of rail investigations, in a prepared statement. “This caused a ‘knuckle’ connecting two cars to break and the train pulled apart. The heavier tail end then collided with the lighter cars ahead causing the derailment.”

Before 1990, the average train running on Canadian mainlines was about 5,000 feet long and weighed 6,000 to 7,000 tons. Today, some trains are 12,000 feet long and weigh 18,000 tons.

“As trains get longer and heavier, the risk of derailment increases,” said Johnston. “That is why last March, we flagged this problem on our watchlist and have pushed hard to make weight distribution on trains a priority.”

During Canadian Pacific’s third-quarter earnings conference yesterday, Chief Operations Officer Ed Harris said the Class I’s trains are getting a tad shorter and lighter. Average train weight dropped 2 percent from 6,683 tons in third-quarter 2009 to 6,548 tons I third-quarter 2010, and average train length decreased 1 percent year over year from 5,783 feet to 5,725 feet.