Ottawa working to improve rail safety after
Published: January 25, 2008
Source: Canadian Press
Transport Canada says it is working with the railway industry to
improve track safety following a CN (TSX:CNR) train derailment that
dumped almost 800,000 litres of oil on the shore of an Alberta lake.
The statement is in response to a Transportation Safety Board report
into the Aug. 3, 2005, spill that fouled Lake Wabamun and forced 20
people from their homes.
The safety board blamed an aging, defective maintenance rail for the
accident just west of Edmonton.
"Transport Canada has already started work with industry to develop
a long-term strategy ... that will take into consideration the
establishment of standards for the quality and strength of
maintenance rails and for rails approaching their fatigue limit
be(ing) replaced," reads a statement on the department's website.
Safety board investigators last fall recommended establishing
minimum standards for rails that are used throughout Canada and
rules for when they should be replaced.
The board said such changes would help prevent future rail failures
and decrease the number of derailments.
A safety board official said on Friday it could take Ottawa and the
industry years to come up with a practical plan.
"I expect the track safety rules will not likely be revised
reflecting any movement on this particular issue for two to three
years," said George Fowler, a track and infrastructure expert with
the safety board.
"There is a big economic consideration whenever you are going to
look at an issue like this. There are thousands of maintenance rails
installed annually on the rail system."
Patrick Charette, a Transport Canada spokesman, said the federal
government has the power to set safety standards but wants to work
with the industry to find a solution.
Charette said it is too early to estimate when Ottawa will take
action. He also said progress could be affected by a review of the
Railway Safety Act.
"I can't speak to any time frame. Experts are working on addressing
An advisory panel reviewing the Railway Safety Act is expected to
present a report to the government with recommendations in the fall.
The Railway Association of Canada, which represents 60 railways
including CN, said it is part of the maintenance rail review.
"It is not a matter of snapping your fingers and change occurs,"
said association spokesman Roger Cameron. "This involves government
regulations and industry processes. There is no question that it is
The Wabamun spill of heavy bunker oil and pole-treating oil killed
hundreds of birds and fish, polluted beaches and shoreline and
forced authorities to truck clean drinking water into the area for
The safety board criticized CN's emergency and environmental
response, saying the railway's handling of the spill should have
been better managed.
CN paid for an extensive cleanup, but new globs of oil continue to
be discovered by residents.
Investigators said the replacement rail that failed was older and
not as strong as the track it was attached to. They also said the
accident probably wouldn't have happened if the replacement rail had
been of a higher quality.
Doug Goss, former head of a citizen's group that represented
property owners in the Wabamun area, said he had expected a more
detailed response from the federal government, but is still hoping
for the best.
"You are hoping that those who are there to protect the property and
lives of 'Joe Citizen' out there take that awfully seriously and
will ensure those very recommendations get implemented," Goss said.
"We all have to hope and be vigilant that in fact that is exactly