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CN ordered to limit train sizes

Transport Canada gets tough after fourth derailment

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Transport Canada responded on Wednesday to calls from local, provincial and federal officials to further tighten restrictions of CN Railways operations on the line between North Vancouver and Whistler after the company reported its fourth derailment in as many months on Dec. 5.

The most recent derailment on that stretch of track took place in the Cheakamus Canyon north of Squamish. It occurred in almost the same area as the Aug. 5 derailment that leaked almost 40,000 litres of a caustic chemical into the Cheakamus River.

In the most recent case seven empty cars were reported as derailed from a train comprised of 125 cars, in plain view of highway work crews on the other side of the river.

CN again denies that the length of trains was a factor in any of the derailments, and says it was obeying a Notice of Order handed down by Transport Canada in November after the third derailment on the line occurred. That order limited trains to just 80 cars unless a distributed power system was in use, with additional remote engines in the middle of the train.

The train that derailed on Monday had four engines up front and two in the middle, and therefore was exempt from the Notice and Order.

However, as of Wednesday, that order was expanded to include all trains.

"We have nothing specific on the cause of that derailment at this time, but we are investigating it aggressively," said CN spokesman Graham Dallas. "Our comment on the order is that… we have no comment yet, and are reviewing the order internally."

All four of the derailments remain under investigation, although the track itself has been ruled out as a cause in every case.

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland has been calling on Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board to impose a size limit on all trains using that section of track since the first derailment, regardless of where the engines are placed.

"There’s definitely a concern at all levels of government about what’s happening with the derailments," he said. "We’ve asked the federal minister to amend its order to place an 80-car limit on trains, regardless of where the engines and cars are.

"We don’t know all the facts yet, but the one common factor in all of the derailments is the length of the trains."

While the investigations may show that train length was not a factor in any of the derailments, as CN has maintained, Sutherland believes it’s safer to reduce train length until the investigations are complete. If train length is ruled out as a factor, then the order can be amended to allow for longer trains.

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