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New air brake rules ordered by Transport Canada after Ontario train derailment

The Minister of Transportation announced new measures to help reduce the risk of serious rail accidents on Wednesday.

Derailment of Goderich-Exeter Railway train on Feb. 1 left significant damage but no injuries

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The Minister of Transportation is implementing two new directives to Canada's railway industry following a derailment in Goderich, Ont. that preliminary reports show are similar to another crash in Saskatchewan.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement Wednesday night that the Railway Safety Act will be updated to include measures aimed at reducing the risk of uncontrolled movement of rail equipment specific to securing air brakes. 

The orders come after a Goderich-Exeter Railway train derailed on Feb. 1 near the town's harbour sending several cars off the rails and destroying a transport truck and a shed. No one was injured but police said the damage was significant. 

While the exact cause is still under investigation, ministry spokesperson Allison St-Jean said in an email that Transport Canada believes the circumstances are similar to another derailment involving a Canadian Pacific Railway train on Nov. 29, 2016, near Estevan, Saskatchewan. In that case a train rolled into another freight car on an opposing track. 

"The incident in Goderich occurred after the locomotive engineer brought the locomotive to a stop and left the locomotive cab to perform duties," St-Jean said. 

Transport Canada determined in its final 2018 report into the Estevan derailment that the engineer "inadvertently moved the automatic brake handle to the release position" once the train had stopped. He didn't realize it and left the locomotive to continue an inspection. 

One of the new orders will require locomotive engineers to follow "specific procedures" to stop uncontrolled movement. Specifics around what those procedures are were not made clear by the ministry at the time of publication. 

The second order involves what the ministry refers to as adding "an additional layer of defence" to the inspection process and operating rules of locomotives.

The proposed amendments include:

  • improving performance standards for locomotives equipped with roll-away protection, which is a feature designed to apply the air brakes when movement is detected.
  • clarifying the definition of an 'unattended train' under the Canadian Rail Operating Rules for more consistency. 

"The majority of uncontrolled train movements take place in rail yards where the risk to the public is lower, but they can still be serious, especially for railway employees. These Ministerial Orders improve rail safety by requiring that additional layers of defence be put in place to prevent these kinds of accidents." Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said in a statement. 

Transport Canada is responsible for developing and overseeing transportation policies and programs across the country. (Terry Saxby)

Transport Canada is responsible for developing and overseeing transportation policies and programs across the country. The ministry said Wednesday it is working closely with the rail industry to improve safety. 

A CBC News investigation in 2020 uncovered years' worth of Transport Canada inspection reports documenting hundreds of safety problems along the Saskatchewan rail line, none of which prompted orders for trains to stop rolling.

The investigation found that since the 2013 rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that killed 47 people, there have been seven major derailments of crude oil trains in Canada. In each case, investigators blame broken track. 

Experts have been critical that Transport Canada needs to do more to properly oversee rail companies and ensure public safety.

"Building safer communities and protecting Canadians who live and work along rail lines is a priority," Alghabra said. 

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