Safety improvements ordered at CP, CN rail yards after incidents in Montreal's west end

Transport Canada has ordered safety improvements at the CP and CN rail yards in Montreal's west end after a number of incidents this summer, including two collisions and a derailment.

Companies say they are complying with orders, but CP has launched an appeal

CP is appealing the Transport Canada inspector's orders but says it will comply with them until the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada hears its case. (Don MacKinnon/Bloomberg)

Transport Canada has ordered safety improvements at the CP and CN rail yards in Montreal's west end after a number of incidents this summer, including two collisions and a derailment.

An inspection by the federal department of a derailment on Aug. 20 at CP's St-Luc yard concluded that "the risk of cars rolling uncontrolled is high and could, as a result, cause harm to employees or members of the public and cause damage to the environment or property."

The sprawling yard borders residential areas of the Côte Saint-Luc borough.

The reported cited CP's use of track skates to stop cars that have been "kicked," or pushed a short distance before being uncoupled and allowed to roll free at low speed.

Kicking is a common practice in switching yards when assembling or breaking down trains.

Transport Canada ordered CP not to rely on track skates to stop kicked cars, and to secure the cars receiving them with handbrakes.

CP is contesting the order and is scheduled to appear before the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada in mid-November.

In the meantime, the company told CBC News on Wednesday that it is complying with the measures until the appeal is heard.

The Côte Saint-Luc rail yard borders residential neighbourhoods and one citizen's group wants to see it relocated away from houses. (Radio-Canada)

Earlier concerns not acted on, says inspector

In documents filed to the appeal tribunal and obtained by Radio-Canada, the inspector who issued the order said he had notified CP of similar concerns in May after another incident.

Quoting his notice from May, the inspector said the use of skates increased "the risk of uncontrolled movements of railway equipment."

Such movements could lead to collisions and derailments, he warned, and he called for "significant remedial measures."

In the document, the inspector said those concerns hadn't been acted on when he returned to investigate the incident on  August 20, leading him to conclude that "an immediate threat to safe railway operations exists."

CN ordered to improve safety

CN's practice of kicking cars at its Taschereau yard was also targeted by Transport Canada inspectors after two minor collisions over a two-week span last summer.

Investigations concluded that the incidents between June 30 and July 13 were "directly attributed to the practice of kicking cars" and that safety measures in place were not sufficient "to prevent uncontrolled movements."

The inspector called for a number of safety improvements, but Transport Canada's website lists the incidents as unresolved.

However, CN told CBC News on Wednesday that it is complying with the orders.

Move yards off-island, says citizens group

Former Côte Saint-Luc mayor Robert Libman is lobbying for the rail yard to be relocated off-island, and these incidents are part of the reason why.

"It just validates the concerns of many residents that these dense rail yards, these very operational rail yards, should not be in urban centres as they are in close proximity to residential neighbourhoods," he said.

Houses border the Côte Saint-Luc rail yard. (Radio-Canada)

with files from Radio-Canada