Crude oil “unit trains” and others carrying hazardous cargo need to slow down, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says, after examining the combined failures of steel and training that led to two fiery derailments in northern Ontario in 2015.
The first derailment occurred on February 14, 2015, about 200 kilometres north of Sudbury, when 29 tank cars carrying oil left their tracks. Despite being built to standards supposedly beefed up since the horrific explosion of a runaway oil train levelled the town of Lac-Mégantic, QC in 2013, several cars caught fire and burned for days. Less than a month later, on March 7, 2015, a second train derailed in the same area, a few kilometres outside the town of Gogama,
According to the TSB’s review of the first incident, CBC News reports, “multiple inspections failed to document the ‘pre-existing fatigue cracks’ in [rail] joint bars. The cracks grew in size until the combination of cold temperatures, which were around –30º C [at the time of the derailment], and repeated impact from passing trains, caused the bars to fail completely.”
The board blamed the overlooked fatigue cracks on inadequate training by CN Rail. “Training, on-the-job mentoring, and supervisory support that an assistant track supervisor received, was insufficient,” the board’s statement said, according to CBC.
A CN Rail spokesperson said the railway had increased its rail maintenance and replacement in the Gogama area since the derailments. “CN also said it has improved track maintenance standards, makes greater use of technology, and has improved training—including 100 new track supervisors going through enhanced classroom and field training,” CBC reports.
Nonetheless, the TSB remains concerned. Even though the first train that derailed was travelling below the 64 kilometre per hour speed limit for the stretch of rail it was on, the Board urged that the limit be lowered further.
“The TSB is concerned that the current speed limits may not be low enough for some trains—particularly unit trains carrying flammable liquids,” TSB Chair Kathy Fox said in a release. “This accident occurred on an isolated stretch of rail in northern Ontario, and thankfully no one was injured. But so long as the same risks exist, the consequences of the next rail accident might be more than just environmental.”