Transportation Safety Board says unnoticed cracks in rail caused 2015 Gogama, Ont. train derailment

​The Transportation Safety Board says insufficient training for track inspectors led to cracks in the rail being missed during maintenance checks in a 2015 derailment near Gogama, Ont.

Officials say federal government needs to establish new rules, including slower max speeds

Transportation Safety Board investigators document the site of the fiery train derailment in the bush not far from Gogama on Feb. 14, 2015. A second CN oil train would derail much closer to the small town three weeks later. (TSB)

​The Transportation Safety Board is calling for new rules surrounding the transport of oil by rail and says trains carrying dangerous goods need to slow down.

That announcement was made at a news conference on Thursday in Sudbury, Ont. as investigators shared their findings about a derailment near Gogama, about 200 kilometres north of Sudbury on Feb. 14, 2015.

Twenty-nine oil tanker cars jumped the tracks 30 kilometres northwest of Gogama with several of them burning for the next few days. The fires happened despite the cars being newer models meant to replace those involved in the deadly disaster at Lac-Mégantic, Que. in 2013, according to TSB officials.

"This accident occurred on an isolated stretch of rail in northern Ontario, and thankfully no one was injured," said Kathy Fox, the chair of the Transportation Safety Board.

"But so long as the same risks exist, the consequences of the next rail accident might be more than just environmental."

The board blamed CN Rail for having insufficient training for track inspectors at the time of the incident, as cracks in the track due to cold weather were missed during inspections, investigators reported.

According to safety officials, the train that derailed was actually travelling below the maximum speed limit of 64 km/h (40 mph). The board is recommending that threshold be lowered.

"The TSB is concerned that the current speed limits may not be low enough for some trains — particularly unit trains carrying flammable liquids," Fox was quoted as saying in a written release accompanying Thursday's press conference.
Kathy Fox is the chair of the Transportation Safety Board. (Erik White / CBC)

"We are also calling for Transport Canada to look at all of the factors, including speed, which contribute to the severity of derailments, to develop mitigating strategies and to amend the rules accordingly."

As for the missed deterioration in the rail, the TSB said that multiple inspections failed to document the "pre-existing fatigue cracks" in joint bars. The cracks grew in size until the combination of cold temperatures, which were around –30 C, and repeated impact from passing trains caused the bars to fail completely.

"These defects went undetected as the training, on-the-job mentoring, and supervisory support that an assistant track supervisor received was insufficient," the board's statement said.

Officials with the safety board said that CN has replaced about 40 kilometres of track in the Gogama area and has improved inspector training since the derailment — the first of two in the area in a short span.

Three weeks later, on Mar. 7, another oil train derailed within a few kilometres of the town.

That train also caught fire and polluted the Makami River, which is part of the Mattagami River system that flows through Mattagami First Nation, Timmins and towards the James Bay coast.

CN Responds

Officials with CN Rail told CBC News the railway has already made several improvements to its infrastructure in northern Ontario, and the Gogama corridor in particular, since the derailment, including increased spending on new rails.
Patrick Waldron is a spokesperson for CN Rail. (CN)

CN also said it has improved track maintenance standards, makes greater use of technology and has improved training — including 100 new track supervisors going through enhanced classroom and field training.

"We've expanded the use of all inspection data to determine where to most effectively invest our capital dollars in order to prevent incidents," said Patrick Waldron, a spokesperson for CN in a written statement to CBC News.

"These focused improvements in northern Ontario and across CN's network have driven safety improvements and reduced accident rates."

Waldron added that CN will spend $2.5 billion in 2017 across its network on initiatives aimed at safety and "targeting routes where dangerous goods travel."