Fifteen months ago, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Outlook (and other provincial and national news outlets) expressing my concerns regarding recent derailment events in Canada and the emergence of what I thought might be an adverse trend in rail safety.
I also wrote Minister Marc Garneau expressing the same concerns. The letter went unpublished and the response from the minister’s office failed to deal with the central thesis that the TSB was at least partly to blame for its inaction in recognising and dealing with the trend.
Since then, the number and frequency of derailments has continued to rise. A broader view has revealed that from two such events in 2016 – the frequency has steadily increased annually to a peak of 15 events in 2019. Worse still, 2020 is projecting to be a t least a repeat of 2019 (two events in the first two months).
The article in last week’s Outlook was even more alarming in that it revealed anecdotal evidence that braking problems in the Spiral Tunnels were well known to CP and their crews.
Further, the Transportation Safety Board now believes that brake testing is ineffective. Frustrated with industry and federal government response to the deaths of three trainmen last year, the Alberta Federation of Labour is calling for an independent (i.e. non-TSB led investigation).
This is what I had in mind a year ago.
Missing from all of this, is the elephant in the room. The acceleration of a train (with faulty brakes) on a decline is directly proportional to the mass of the train and the steepness of the decline.
No one is talking about the length (mass) of the train, even though this is the only short-term variable available to mitigate the risk. Speed of the train, in this situation, is irrelevant.
I believe that this needs a broader review conducted from a perspective removed from the industry and the TSB.
It must look beyond the spiral tunnels and include a review of track and railcar design and maintenance and consider mass limitations as well as speed limitations given the state of repair of the industry.
The last thing we need is a Lac Megantic event in the Spiral Tunnels.