Is Rail Safety On The Wayside? By Ron Murdock

Some time ago an investigation by CBC News apparently found out that CN Rail failed to report 1,800 derailments and accidents across Canada. This total included 44 incidents on their main line. 1,800 seems to be an extremely high number to cover up. One would think a lot of these occurrences would be noticed by and reported at least by CN Rail management. To have this reported by outside sources would seem to have put eggs on the faces of CN Rail officials. I would think they would have more to gain by being honest and upfront than hide the facts.

Things came to light when the Transportation Safety Board’s directors saw a significant difference in CN Rails accident numbers compared to what other rail company operators reported. In June 2006 a statutory summons required CN Rail to turn over all of its safety records. The TSA apparently found numerous unreported issues over a six year period including a good number of main track derailments, collisions, fire, explosions, crossing accidents and other incidents.

Railway Tracks

I began thinking to a small degree on the priorities CN Rail may have. How much Hunter Harrison, former CEO of CN Rail, had to do with it remains to be seen but in the last few years CN Rail has had a large number of derailments. Under the Harrison management I heard rumours that track maintenance went through several cost cutting manuveours among other essential services facing the axe. A few years ago I saw a 171 general freight train go by me near Saskatoon with just two 4300 horsepower engines at the front point. I thought an extra unit or two towards the end of the train would have helped stabilize the back loads.

If there is nothing to hide then why conceal the number of derailments? Especially if it involves tanker cars filled with hazardous materials. Plus if track maintenance is an issue to any degree it doesn’t do anything for me to travel by passenger train especially on any of CN’s rail lines. When CP Rail went on strike in 2013, one of the issues was safety. Tanker cars make up a good part of general freights so you can imagine the effects that a derailment has on the environment when the toxic chemicals spill out from the tanker cars.

I don’t think much of a reward system that states the less accidents reported the better. I can only hope there is a change in the reward system before the general public, rail customers and shareholders find out exactly what is going on. It has me wondering if CN Rail will ever get around to reporting all accidents. Just how much pressure will it take.

Ron Murdock

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