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CP refutes faulty brakes as cause of fatal train derailment

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has cited faulty brakes as being one of the causes behind a fatal 2019 derailment of a 112-car grain train — a finding that Canadian Pacific disputes.

The February 2019 accident involved a CP (NYSE: CP) train with 112 loaded hopper cars traveling from Calgary, Alberta, to Vancouver, British Columbia. According to TSB, the inbound train crew wasn’t able to slow down the train adequately while descending the steep 13.5-mile-long Field Hill, and so the crew used the emergency brakes. 

After getting the train to stop, a relief crew replaced the inbound train crew. After the relief crew took over, the train began to creep forward and accelerate uncontrolled down the steep grade, TSB said. When the train was unable to navigate a sharp curve, two locomotives and 99 cars derailed. The three members of the relief crew were fatally injured.

The board determined that the freight cars’ brake cylinders were leaking compressed air, and the extreme cold temperatures and their age and condition exacerbated their subpar performance. 

Additional findings and an investigation report are available on TSB’s website.

As a result of the investigation, the board issued three recommendations for Transport Canada to consider regarding cold-weather train operations:

  • Transport Canada should establish enhanced test standards and requirements for time-based maintenance of brake cylinders on freight cars operating on steep descending grades in cold ambient temperatures. 
  • The agency should require Canadian freight railways to develop and implement a schedule for the installation of automatic parking brakes on freight cars, prioritizing the retrofit of cars used in bulk commodity unit trains in mountain-grade territory. 
  • Transport Canada should also require CP to demonstrate that its safety management system can effectively identify hazards arising from operations using all available information, including employee hazard reports and data trends; assess the associated risks; and implement mitigation measures and validate that they are effective. 

“This tragic accident demonstrates, once again, that uncontrolled movements of rolling stock continue to pose a significant safety risk to railway operations in Canada,” said TSB Chair Kathy Fox. “It is obvious that more must be done to reduce the risks to railway employees and the Canadian public, reduce preventable loss of life, and increase the safety and resilience of this vital part of the Canadian supply chain.”

TSB also said it has ongoing concerns about unplanned or uncontrolled movements of rail equipment and safety management. 

Canadian Pacific responds to TSB’s findings

CP disputed TSB’s interpretation of events, which in turn could have influenced the board’s findings and recommendations.  

“CP continues to mourn the loss of Dylan Paradis, Andrew Dockrell and Daniel Waldenberger-Bulmer. This is a tragedy that will never be forgotten and one which has strengthened CP’s unwavering commitment to safety across its entire operation,” CP said Thursday. “Given the gravity of this incident and the tragic loss of life, it was extremely disappointing that the TSB misrepresented the facts” at a Thursday news conference as well as “misunderstood key facts about the incident in its report.”

CP argued that both sets of crews were fully trained, qualified and certified, and they had experience with handling trains on mountain grades. The railway also said its safety management system met regulatory standards. 

“The TSB has erroneously concluded, based on inappropriate extrapolation of data and unsupported inferences, that the involved-train exhibited poor braking performance,” CP said. “As confirmed in the report, the train involved in the incident was fully functional, met all industry standards and passed all regulatory brake test inspections.”

CP said it would communicate with TSB over its disagreements with the board’s findings. The railway also said the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is still conducting an inquiry of the accident.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.