Canada's Transportation Safety Board urges update of rail employee training

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada’s Transportation Safety Board urged the country’s regulator on Wednesday to update rules for training railway employees after an investigation into the 2016 case of a Toronto runaway train found employees lacked the know-how to stop it.

FILE PHOTO: A Canadian National Railway train travels westward on a track in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, February 15, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

Transport Canada needs to modernize the 1987 rules used for training employees like conductors, who operate freight trains using new technologies, TSB board member Faye Ackermans said.

“This investigation identified gaps between what is mandated by the regulations and what is required for some employees to do the job safely,” Ackermans told reporters in Toronto.

“Transport Canada has been promising a regulatory update for years, as far back as 2003. Now is the time for action,” she said.

The TSB’s recommendation on Wednesday to Transport Canada followed efforts between 2003 and 2009 that did not result in new rules for training because the 1987 regulations were never rescinded, Ackermans told Reuters on Wednesday.

Transport Canada spokeswoman Annie Joannette said in an email that the regulator was “looking at ways to strengthen the railway employee qualification and training regime to reflect changes in an evolving railway industry.” Transport Canada will respond to the TSB, as required, within 90 days.

Incidents of uncontrolled train movements in Canada have risen 10 percent, on average, over the last five years, since the 2013 explosion of a runaway train carrying crude that killed 47 people in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec.

While the majority of incidents involving uncontrolled trains take place in railyards, they are a concern for the TSB.

“The (issue of uncontrolled movements) is not going away,” Rob Johnston, manager, railway investigations at the TSB, said in an interview. “They are low-frequency, but high-risk events.”

In the 2016 incident, two conductors were trying to move a 9,000 ton train with 74 freight cars from a switching yard to a nearby industrial yard just north of Canada’s largest city Toronto. The train ran uncontrolled for about 3 miles (4.8 km) and reached almost 30 mph (48 kph) before stopping on its own without causing injuries or releasing dangerous cargo.

Reporting by Allison Lampert Editing by G Crosse