CN Rail struggled with track improvements after fiery derailments

Fri Apr 29, 2016 2:06pm EDT
 
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By Allison Martell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Canada's biggest railway struggled to keep some heavily used track in adequate repair even after a string of derailments last year showed the danger of moving oil on poorly maintained track, documents obtained by Reuters show.

Three trains derailed along one 296 mile (476 km) section of Canadian National Railway Co track in northern Ontario in February and March last year. The third train spilled crude oil in and around a river near the town of Gogama, igniting a fire that burned for days.

More than 100 pages of correspondence and inspection reports obtained by Reuters under Canada's freedom of information law show that a March inspection by Transport Canada, the ministry responsible for rail safety, found a number of problems with the track.

But the documents also show that during a July inspection, months after normal operations resumed, inspectors found new track problems, including rail that had been secured with too few bolts, and defective ties. CN brought its trains back up to normal speeds in late May. (Graphic: tmsnrt.rs/1reqKif)

CN Rail told Reuters the July inspection ultimately uncovered 57 defects, including 10 that required temporary speed reductions. Seven of those 10 were on the main line. CN said the defects found in July were repaired by Sept. 3.

Transport Canada lifted its March safety notice on Dec. 15, 2015, signaling that it believed safety problems in the area had been resolved. But the regulator has not conducted a track inspection since July. Evidence that problems persisted after the first inspection has one residents' group wondering how definitive the ministry's all-clear is.

"Wow. It wasn't taken care of," said Natalie Sear-Beland, spokeswoman for the Gogama Citizens' Committee, a group formed last year, after learning about the July inspection results.

Sear-Beland said the town has been "completely in the dark" about track conditions, and she fears there could be another accident.   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 8, 2015 handout photo obtained by Reuters March 9.  REUTERS/MPP Glenn Thibeault/Handout via Reuters