Exclusive: CN Rail derailment numbers soared before recent crashes

Mon Mar 23, 2015 5:37am EDT
 
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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway's safety record deteriorated sharply in 2014, reversing years of improvements, as accidents in Canada blamed on poor track conditions hit their highest level in more than five years, a Reuters analysis has found.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Tuesday that track failure may have played a role in CN's three recent Ontario accidents, which have fueled calls for tougher regulation. The agency said oil unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, could make tracks more susceptible to failure.

Data obtained under access to information laws and analyzed by Reuters shows a broader trend, which has not been previously reported, and could pile more pressure on CN Rail to slow down trains or reduce their length. A crackdown on oil trains could raise the cost of shipping Canadian crude by rail.

Trains operated by CN in Canada derailed along main lines 57 times in 2014, up 73 percent from 33 in 2013 and well above a 2009-2013 average of 39 accidents per year. On CN's full 21,000 mile (33,800 km) network, which also includes the Midwestern and southern United States, freight carloads rose 8 percent last year.

At least 27 of the domestic derailments were caused by track problems, up from a previous annual average of 14. Data for smaller rival Canadian Pacific Railway showed no similar pattern.

"CN is keenly aware of its recent safety trends, starting with a sudden increase of its accident rate in 2014," Canada's biggest railway said in a response to Reuters' analysis.

The railway pointed out that its performance improved between 2007 and 2013, and so far, 2015 has been better than 2014. It said it was reviewing recent trends and has started testing tracks more frequently, boosted spending on infrastructure and installed new technology to detect problems with its tracks and equipment.

For 2015 it is planning to increase capital spending by C$300 million, to C$2.6 billion ($2.1 billion).   Continued...

 
Smoke rises from fires caused by the derailment of a CN Railway train carrying crude oil near the northern Ontario community of Gogama, Ontario in this March 7, 2015 Transport Safety Board of Canada handout file photograph.  REUTERS/TSBCanada/Handout via Reuters