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Transport Canada prepares to implement train safety technology

Federal agency focusing first on interoperability, or way trains communicate

Transport Canada has taken the first steps to ensure major freight railways in the country deploy enhanced train control, a safety technology that tracks the distances between trains.

Enhanced train control would be Canada’s version of what is called positive train control (PTC) in the U.S., where the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 requires certain freight and passenger railroads — including the American operations of Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and CN (NYSE: CNI) — to install the technology in order to prevent train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments and movements of trains through switches left in the wrong position. U.S. railroads completed their implementation of PTC by the December 2020 regulatory deadline.

Enhanced train control (ETC) has not been required in Canada, but the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and the 2018 Railway Safety Act review panel have pushed for its implementation.

In February, Transport Canada said it would take the first steps toward implementing ETC, publishing a notice of intent in the Canada Gazette describing how the commonwealth will go about the process. Meanwhile, TSB last week reiterated its calls for Transport Canada to require ETC, releasing its review last week into possible causes of a January 2019 collision of two CN trains in Manitoba.

Transport Canada told FreightWaves that “work is well underway” to develop an ETC system in Canada, with the agency working with other government entities and industry stakeholders toward its rollout.

“Collaboration with the Standards Council of Canada continues as we develop a national technical specification on interoperability,” Transport Canada said. “This specification will be an essential first step for ETC system implementation, ensuring that critical information, such as train position and train speed, can be communicated reliably and securely between railways, notwithstanding the chosen train control technology.”

Transport Canada also said it would respond to last week’s TSB review within 90 days.  

The agency also told FreightWaves it is looking at another Transportation Safety Board recommendation from last week, which would be to require Canadian railways to develop and implement formal crew resource management education to be included in the qualification training for employees operating trains.

Transport Canada said it is reviewing the railway employee qualification standards regulations, which include areas where training could be improved. 

Transport Canada provided FreightWaves with a list of measures that the agency has undertaken to address the rail movement of dangerous goods in the country, including a December 2021 final statement on railway safety culture and changes to track safety rules pertaining to inspection frequency and automated inspection technology. 

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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.