Saskatoon

Transport Canada mum on track 'minor non-compliances' found on route of Sask. oil train derailments

Transport Canada says the section of Canadian Pacific Railway track marked by two recent oil train derailments in Saskatchewan was inspected by regulators three times in the last year. But it won't say what kind of "minor non-compliances" were found during two of those inspections. 

Section of CP track marked by 2 recent derailments was inspected 3 times in last year

Smoke billows up from a derailed Canadian Pacific Railway train near Guernsey, Sask., on Feb. 6, 2020. (Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)

Transport Canada says the section of Canadian Pacific Railway track marked by two recent oil train derailments in Saskatchewan was inspected by regulators three times in the last year.

But it won't say what kind of "minor non-compliances" were found during two of those inspections. 

Two CP trains carrying oil have recently jumped the tracks on the company's Sutherland subdivision, near the small hamlet of Guernsey, Sask. The incidents — one on Dec. 9 of last year and a second last Thursday — occurred about three kilometres from each other. 

Nobody was injured or killed in either crash. But the latest incident produced enough black smoke to prompt the voluntary evacuation of Guernsey, a community of about 100 people.  

Hours after last week's crash, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau ordered all large trains carrying dangerous goods to slow their speeds for the next month.

Previous inspections

Transport Canada has confirmed it inspected the Sutherland subdivision track three times in the last year, using a track inspection vehicle.  

On May 7 and Aug. 27 of 2019, the regulator "found minor non-compliances that were identified to CP Rail, which made all repairs within 30 days as required," according to a Transport Canada spokesperson.

After the Guernsey-area derailment on Dec. 9, 2019, Transport Canada returned to the track for a third time on Jan. 29 of this year. It found "no instances of non-compliance."

A week later, the second derailment occurred. 

"It would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause of a derailment before the [Transportation Safety Board of Canada] has concluded an investigation," the Transport Canada spokesperson said. 

(CBC)

CBC News asked Transport Canada to specify what the non-compliances were. It declined to do so, referring inquiries to CP Rail.

CP did not respond to the same request for information about the non-compliances Wednesday. 

CBC News also asked CP for the results of any recent inspections the company may have conducted on the track. 

"CP meets or exceeds all federal standards on track inspections," a company spokesperson said in response. 

A resident who lives near the site of the December derailment, Melanie Loessl, said CP did some work on the track at various points in 2019.

CP also declined to comment on that. 

'Coincidences can happen'

Barry Prentice, a professor in supply chain management at the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business, said the two clustered derailments could just be a twist of fate.

"We always say at the university: an observation is an observation, two observations is a pattern and three observations are a trend," Prentice said. 

"So I'd certainly want to see that third observation before I got too worried. Coincidences can happen."

Smoke rises from the site of the CP derailment close to Guernsey on Feb. 6, 2020. (Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating both incidents for their causes and contributing factors, and to determine whether any safety recommendations need to be issued.

"Neither TSB investigators nor the board can assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability," a TSB spokesperson recently told CBC News.

"The fact that TSB is investigating does not preclude any other agency," such as a police service, from "investigating in accordance with its own mandate," the spokesperson added. 

CP has its own police force, with officers employed by CP assigned to 25 field offices spread across six provinces and 14 American states. 

CP Police Service "is not conducting a criminal investigation into the [Feb. 6] matter," the CP spokesperson said. "CPPS and the RCMP were on site to protect the perimeter and ensure public safety."

An RCMP spokesperson confirmed that police force is not investigating the derailment either.

Loads increased in 2018

New information from Transport Canada indicates the volume of dangerous goods on the Sutherland subdivision has increased in the last two years. 

Transport Canada requires railway companies to conduct risk assessments at least every three years on "key routes" where large trains cumulatively transport 10,000 or more loaded tank cars of dangerous goods a year.

The assessments look at 28 different risk factors — everything from the speed of trains to geohazards. 

The Sutherland subdivision was designated a key route in January 2018, according to Transport Canada. 

"As part of the department's rail safety oversight program, in 2018, Transport Canada verified that CP had conducted the risk assessment," a Transport Canada spokesperson said.

Both CP and ConocoPhillips, which owned the bitumen on board last week's train, confirmed the train was using newly built tank cars meant to be more puncture-resistant than the ones that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in 2013.

Transport Canada endorsed the new TC-117 cars as being "safer" than their predecessors.

But at least 12 of the tank cars last week caught fire, according to the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, and drone footage showed two large pools of oil staining the highway near the track. 

CBC News asked if the incident prompted concern about the TC-117 cars.

"The TSB is conducting an investigation," a Transport Canada spokesperson said. "[We] will await the outcome of that investigation.

"The department will not hesitate to take appropriate action should we identify any safety or regulatory deficiencies."

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

With files from Dave Seglins

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