Panel report knocks CN Rail's attitude to safety

Fri Mar 7, 2008 5:09pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canadian National Railway is hindering efforts to improve rail safety with a "culture of fear," according to a government report released on Friday.

The report, begun in 2006 in the wake of several high-profile accidents, said Canada's railways are safe, but it expressed concern that "overall safety" has not significantly improved since 1999 when regulations were last overhauled.

"We think it should have," said the panel set up by the federal transportation minister to review rail safety legislation.

The rail freight industry is dominated by Canadian National, the country's largest carrier, and No. 2 Canadian Pacific Railway, both of which also have significant operations in the United States.

Nearly all of the intercity passenger trains are run by Via Rail, a government-owned corporation.

The panel praised Via and Canadian Pacific for developing a "healthy safety culture," but took aim at Canadian National -- which is often credited by stock market analysts as being North America's most efficiently run major railway.

"CN's strict adherence to a rules-based approach, focused largely on disciplinary actions when mistakes are made, has instilled a culture of fear and discipline and is counter to an effective safety management system," the panel said.

A spokesman for Canadian National said the company was still studying the report and the panel's direct criticism, but noted CN's statistics on accidents and worker injuries indicate its record has improved over the past seven years.   Continued...