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Ottawa working to improve rail safety after Alberta wreck
Published: January 25, 2008
Source: Canadian Press
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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 the issue."

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 important."

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 18 months.

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 what happens."

 

 
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