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Trains should never have rolled on unsafe parts of track
Published: January 8, 2008
Source: Canadian Press
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OTTAWA - Trains in northern Manitoba should never have rolled along sections of track deemed "impassable" by federal transport standards, says a newly released report.

Rail service should have stopped until 16 sections of the track classified as unsafe by Transport Canada were repaired, says a report by a Mississauga, Ont.-based engineering firm.

"Trains should not have been operated over these defects until they were corrected to within these standards," the report says.

"Trains should have been stopped immediately over the impassable defects until corrected."

UMA Engineering Ltd. sent Via Rail the report, which The Canadian Press obtained under the Access to Information Act, last September after it identified track sections that sloped at a degree beyond what Transport Canada considers safe.

Via does not own the remote 310-kilometre section of track in Manitoba, known as the Sherridon subdivision, which runs between Sherritt Junction and Lynn Lake.

Manitoba's Keewatin Railway Corp. owns that part of the rail line in the northern part of the province between The Pas and Pukatawagan.

However, Via spokesman Malcolm Andrews said the Crown corporation received the report because it leases several coaches to Keewatin.

"We're concerned with all of our equipment, and where it's operating, and how it's operating, and the condition that it's operating over," he said.

Keewatin Railway Corp. general manager Tom McCahill said Tuesday the company leases three coaches and one baggage car from Via.

Each problem area was repaired before the report was sent to Via last September, he said, adding the 16 impassable sections of track ranged from only a few inches to several metres.

"No railroad operates over track that they know is in this condition," McCahill said.

"Were we operating over it before the car (used to measure the track found the defects)? I guess so, because we didn't know it was there."

Tracks are typically inspected once a year, usually after the spring thaw, McCahill said, so the 16 sections singled out in the report would have become a problem sometime between the annual checks.

Meanwhile, trains had to slow to a crawl to make it across other trouble spots on the rails. The engineering firm's report identified more than 200 sections of track where the firm recommended so-called "slow orders," or speed limits, for trains to cross safely.

Of those, the report recommended 110 sections of the track that trains could only safely cross at 10 miles an hour. It also recommended nearly a hundred more slow orders of varying speeds for other parts of the track.

However, the report also noted two months had passed between the testing and the date the engineering firm delivered the report to Via, so "the track may have deteriorated since then."

The author of the firm's report declined to comment and referred all calls to Via. The Via engineer who received the report did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.

Crumbling infrastructure has plagued the rail industry in recent years.

A separate Via report released last year showed one out of every four of the Crown corporation's trains were late in 2007.

The delays aren't always Via's fault, since the agency largely operates on track owned by other railways, such as CN Rail, and its passenger trains must sometimes stand down to let freight trains pass.

Freight-train derailments, track-improvement work and speed restrictions along tracks that are prone to buckling in summer heat have all caused disruptions in the schedule.


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