The Transportation Safety Board of Canada Identifies Problems with Train Operations on Extreme Mountain Territory
(Gatineau, Quebec, July 11, 2007) – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its final investigation report (R05V0141) today into the Canadian National (CN) train derailment near Squamish, British Columbia, on August 5, 2005. Nine cars derailed, including one tank car that ruptured, spilling approximately 40 000 litres of sodium hydroxide, also known as caustic soda, into the Cheakamus River. The spill killed over 500 000 fish from 10 different species and caused extensive environmental damage. The Board investigation revealed that a number of causes and contributing factors led to the derailment, and uncovered safety deficiencies in the Canadian railway transportation system, some of which still need to be addressed.”The Squamish Subdivision is one of the most challenging railway lines in Canada,” said Mrs. Wendy A. Tadros, Chair of the Board. “It is not like operating between Edmonton and Winnipeg, or even between Vancouver and Jasper. This is an extreme mountain environment with curves that are twice as sharp and grades more than twice as steep as on other CN main lines. There is no room for error.”
The Board found that, the day before the accident, when the seven locomotives in the distributed power train were readied for the trip, a locomotive equipped with older technology was set up in the front. The two mid-train locomotives were also set up to pull in the opposite direction from the head end. Non-specific alarms briefly sounded to indicate a fault, and the mid-train locomotives automatically shut down. The crew had no indication of the inoperative state of the mid-train locomotives, which had serious implications for the operation of the train north of Squamish. With the mid-train locomotives unavailable, all pulling power came from the locomotives at the front of the train. Nearing the bridge over the Cheakamus River, the two-mile-long train was losing speed in an area of sharp curves and steep grades. When another locomotive at the head end was powered up to prevent a stall, the light, empty cars behind stringlined to the inside rail of the curve, resulting in a derailment.
Lack of training and proper supervision also contributed to this derailment. According to the Board, CN resumed operations of long trains in the extreme mountain environment of the Squamish Subdivision, without a formal risk assessment and without adequate consideration of the value of retaining and using local knowledge and experience in the operation of long distributed power trains.
While significant safety actions have been taken as a result of this investigation to improve the safety of railways, the Board is concerned about remaining risks to persons, property and the environment. The first area of concern is with respect to the priority given to marshalling the locomotives with the safest technology in the lead position. The second area of concern relates to the need for human performance assessment of alarms to ensure that crews understand the priority that should be given to the many alarms in the cab.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
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The public report R05V0141, Backgrounder and photos are also available on the TSB site.
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