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Transportation Safety Board of Canada calls for rail safety technology implementation

TSB says automated train control system would have helped prevent January 2019 accident

A CN train. (Shutterstock: Drew Halverson)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is recommending all of the country’s major railways that travel along high-speed corridors or key routes adopt technology similar to positive train control in the United States.

The recommendation for Transport Canada to implement “physical fail-safe train controls” is one of TSB’s determinations that resulted from studying why two CN (NYSE: CNI) trains collided near Portage la Prairie in Manitoba in January 2019. That incident caused derailments on both trains.

“The United States has fully implemented a positive train control system on all high-hazard tracks required by its federal legislation,” said TSB Chair Kathy Fox in a news release. “This includes the U.S. operations of both CN and Canadian Pacific, which have invested significantly in their locomotive fleets and infrastructure. The railway industry must act more quickly to implement a similar form of automated or enhanced train control system on Canada’s key routes to improve rail safety and avoid future rail disasters.”

TSB’s recommendation comes as Transport Canada announced in February that it would be taking steps to require the implementation of enhanced train control, its version of PTC, as part of a broader effort to encourage rail safety and reduce the risk of serious accidents. A notice of intent about this endeavor was published in the Canada Gazette. 

Because of the cross-border operations of U.S. and Canadian railways, both countries often seek to harmonize rail safety rules or implement regulations that complement each other. Both CN and Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) already deploy PTC within their U.S. operations.

In addition to recommending PTC, TSB also said Wednesday that Canadian railways should be required to develop and implement formal crew resource management (CRM) education to be included in the qualification training for employees involved in operating trains. 

“The aviation and marine industries experienced significant safety benefits with the introduction of CRM,” Fox said. “This type of training could provide additional tools and strategies to train crews to mitigate inevitable human errors, providing significant safety benefits in the rail industry.”

The two trains involved in the Jan. 3, 2019, incident were eastbound CN train 318 and westbound CN train 315. Both trains were utilizing the Rivers Subdivision, which TSB calls one of CN’s busiest routes where there is frequent transport of dangerous goods. Their collision caused the two head-end locomotives on train 318 and eight cars on train 315 to derail.

Fatigue and failing to comply with work-rest rules were determined to be contributing causes of the accident, as well as insufficient communication among the train 318 crew that contributed to its slowed response to preventing the collision. 

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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.