CN's Unsatisfactory Rating for Safety and
June 9, 2008
Source: Barrington Communities Against CN Rail Congestion
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panel has 'serious concerns' and says Canadian National instills a
'culture of fear' among employees.
Canadian National Railway (CN) received the lowest grade level possible
on implementing safety management systems (SMS) that are designed to
offset accidents and other safety hazards, according to a report
released by the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and
Communities on Rail Safety in Canada.
Sparked by an increase in recent rail accidents in Canada over the last
few years that, according to the Committee, have caused "serious"
repercussions in terms of "human fatalities and environmental damage,"
the report cited CN for several safety concerns that include failed
communication between senior management and frontline workers on clearly
defining management's commitment to safety; limited training for newly
hired employees and creating a "culture of fear" for workers with regard
to non-punitive reporting on safety violations.
The Committee stressed it has serious concerns regarding both the delays
and the manner in which the SMS has been implemented by the railway. On
a scale of one to five, with five being the optimum level, CN was at
level 1 or 2. "This is not, in our view, acceptable progress," the
The Advisory Panel for the Railway Safety Act Review, which was enacted
last February, reported that CN along with other railroads and Transport
Canada have not made sufficient progress in attaining this goal and
noted that safety has not been a "high enough priority for the
"This raises serious concern about CN's safety record," said Barrington
Village President Karen Darch. "Canadian National wants to quadruple
train traffic in U.S. communities at a time when it's under serious
scrutiny in its own backyard."
These findings come as CN faces increased opposition from community
groups and elected officials, including Senator Barack Obama, Senator
Dick Durbin and Congressman Melissa Bean who oppose the purchase of the
Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway (EJ&E) by CN. The Barrington
Communities Against CN Rail Congestion and The Regional Answer to CN (TRAC)
represent the interests of more than three dozen municipalities,
counties and other community groups. The coalition maintains that the
increase in freight traffic will cause additional safety and
environmental risks and points to the report's findings as evidence to
"CN must be held accountable and explain how it will make safety a top
priority before this acquisition is even considered," said Mayor Thomas
Weisner of Aurora. "It is the STB's responsibility to seriously evaluate
these findings before deciding the fate of this acquisition."
"CN's strict adherence to a rules-based approach, focused largely on
disciplinary actions when mistakes are made, has instilled a 'culture of
fear and discipline' and is counter to effective safety management
systems," the Advisory Panel stated. "CN needs to acknowledge this
openly and take concrete steps to improve."
The report, which was released last month, provides recommendations to
both government regulatory agencies and railroad companies on how to
improve the industry's safety record.
"Canadian National wants to build a rail superhighway through our
communities but in light of this recent report it should be prohibited
from expanding any U.S. operations until it can prove it is committed to
operating in a safe and responsible manner," according to DuPage County
Board member Jim Healy.
CN was among several rail companies and groups of key stakeholders
including employees, environmentalists and the general public that
participated in the study. However, CN received the most scrutiny for
its failure to adequately address safety issues ever since railroads
were required seven years ago to implement SMSs.
In June coalition members called on Congressional leaders to pass
legislation to augment current rail law to reflect the needs of
communities in the 21st century. Currently the U.S. Surface
Transportation Board (STB) is reviewing CN's proposed acquisition of the
EJ&E. The STB has the authority to approve, deny or approve this
acquisition with contingencies. For more information or to see of copy
of this report visit