“Not only are trains involved in main-track derailments heavier than ever, they are longer, too.”
– TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD OF CANADA
Canadian railways’ handling and marshalling of “longer, heavier” trains is among the most critical safety issues in the country’s transportation system.
That’s according to the new “Watchlist” released March 16 by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, laying out what board chair Wendy Tadros called the issues that “pose the greatest risk to Canadians.”
In some cases, according to Tadros, a transportation industry lawyer, “industry and regulators share our concerns. However, we know from hard experience, if persistent problems are not addressed, there will be another accident.”
In the rail sector, the board said, “inappropriate handling and marshalling can compromise the safe operation of longer, heavier trains.”
Lighter cars, for example, slow down and speed up more quickly than heavier ones, generating “disruptive push/pull forces” that can derail a train, the board said. Such an effect is “more pronounced” in longer trains, particularly when empty cars are located at the front.
Since 2000, the TSB said, it has investigated at least 12 derailments where such “in-train forces” were the cause or at least contributed.
“Not only are trains involved in main-track derailments heavier than ever, they are longer, too – over 25 per cent from just 15 years ago,” the TSB said. “Some of today’s longer, heavier trains stretch over three km in length and contain 150 cars or more.”
Furthermore, the TSB said, such long trains are seeing expanded use across Canada – at times heading into the country’s busiest traffic corridors.
“The consequences of any derailment, therefore, can become magnified, and it is impor tant that those who identify and monitor the risks be able to mitigate them,” the board wrote.
In its investigation of a freight train derailment near Cobourg,
Ont. in 2007, the TSB said it once again drew attention to train configuration and braking, “expressing concern that effective measures have not been taken to reduce the continued risks of derailment.”
Given that and four other safety communications since 2001, the TSB said, “some railways have not taken sufficient steps required to safely manage these in-train forces.”
Railways, the board said, must take “further steps” to ensure appropriate handling and marshalling of such trains. The TSB also called for “detailed risk assessments” whenever operating practices change.
Among the other watchlisted issues, the TSB added that the risk of passenger trains colliding with vehicles “remains too high” in busy rail corridors.
And in the rail, air and marine transport industries alike, the TSB said, “data critical to understanding how and why transportation accidents happen are frequently lost, damaged, or not required to be collected.”
In the rail industry, the board said, lost locomotive data has “impeded” investigations in six fatal railway accidents in the last 18 years.
The TSB said it’s previously emphasized the survivability of recorded data on trains and has made “multiple calls” for improved crashworthiness standards to better preserve data. Older recorders, however, “may remain in service for decades.”
Generally, the TSB said, “industry needs to expand adoption of recently improved recorder standards to prevent the loss of data following collisions and derailments.”