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Sparks from CN, CP trains did not cause Lytton fire

Transportation Safety Board clears railways in Canadian wildfire

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has determined that sparks coming from the trains of CN and Canadian Pacific didn’t start the fire in Lytton, British Columbia, that destroyed the town.

“A fire is reportable to the TSB as a transportation occurrence if it is known that the operation of railway rolling stock causes or sustains a fire. There has been no report of such an occurrence made to the TSB by either railway that operates through the area,” TSB’s report concluded last Thursday

TSB said that the wildfire remains under investigation by the British Columbia Wildfire Service, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine the need for a parallel criminal investigation. But TSB won’t be producing an investigation report unless it’s established that a reportable event has occurred. 

“The TSB has conducted significant investigative work to determine if there was a definitive connection between railway operations through Lytton, BC, and the fire that destroyed the town” on June 30, TSB said, adding that its “investigation has not identified any link between railway operations and the fire. Further effort, beyond a Class 5 TSB investigation, is not warranted unless new information establishes that a TSB reportable event (i.e., an accident or incident involving rolling stock) occurred.”

The Lytton fire started June 30 and spread through the area, causing two deaths.

TSB had deployed an investigation team in early July to see whether sparks from moving freight trains were the cause of the fire. 

As the investigation continued over the summer, Transport Canada ordered CN (NYSE: CNI) and CP (NYSE: CP) trains to slow down their speeds between Kamloops and Boston Bar in order to lessen the chances that sparks from a freight train could start a fire.

That order, which was established in July and is effective through Oct. 31, calls for Class I railways to reduce train speeds to 25 mph in areas where track speeds normally are between 26 mph and 35 mph. Trains must also slow down by 10 mph if the permitted train speed is greater than 36 mph. These restrictions apply when the air temperature is 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the fire danger for the area is “extreme.”

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.