Government further revises train regulations, speed limits for dangerous goods on Canadian railways

A federal order for trains carrying dangerous goods to slow down after two fiery crashes near Guernsey, Sask., has been further revised by Transport Minister Marc Garneau. 

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has updated changes ordered after 2 Saskatchewan crashes

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

The latest: Experts weigh in on latest safety measures following 2 Sask. oil train crashes

A federal order for trains carrying dangerous goods to slow down after two fiery crashes near Guernsey, Sask., has been further revised by Transport Minister Marc Garneau. 

The original order announced Feb. 6, the same day as the second crash, halved speed limits for trains carrying 20 or more cars with dangerous goods: from 64 km/h to 32 km/h through metropolitan areas, and from 80 km/h to 40 km/h everywhere else.

Garneau's updated ministerial order, announced late Sunday, revised limits again, raising some back up and adding new stipulations on when the limits apply and to which trains.

It separates the limits into two categories: the first is for "higher risk key trains" — those either carrying a single dangerous goods commodity moving to the same point of destination or those that include any combination of 80 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods.

The second category applies to "key trains," which are defined as those "carrying 20 or more cars containing dangerous goods, or a train carrying one or more cars of toxic inhalation gas."

The new speed limits are: 

"Higher risk key trains"

  • Metro areas: 48 km/h or 40 km/h in non-signalled areas.
  • Non-metro in areas where there are track signals: 80 km/h.
  • Non-metro in areas where there are no track signals: 40 km/h.

"Key trains"

  • Metro areas: 56 km/h.
  • Non-metro in areas where there are track signals: 80 km/h.
  • Non-metro in areas where there are no track signals: 64 km/h.

The department said it made the changes after conducting further investigation and consulting industry. The updated order comes into effect immediately. 

It will remain in place until April 1. Transport Canada said it also plans to introduce permanent measures to improve safety that target track infrastructure maintenance and renewal, winter operations and safety practices of the railway companies. 

CN Rail asked for revised limits

Sean Finn, CN Rail's executive vice-president of corporate services, said the company has been in discussions with the federal government since the initial order was made on Feb. 6. 

"We were capable of explaining to the official Transport Canada why we felt our railway was safe with our signal technology and we thought that was the right outcome," said Finn. 

He said most of CN's rail network has been upgraded with a signalling system that identifies any break in the rail or issues on the track. 

The rail company said in a news release that the speed limits reduced its network capacity by about one-third. 

Finn said the revised speed limits will not bring CN's network back to full capacity because blockades by protesters have been stopping rail traffic in some parts of the country. 

The protests are in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline in northern B.C.

Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau ordered trains carrying dangerous goods to reduce speeds in populated areas after a CP Rail train crashed outside Guernsey, Sask. 2:01

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is still investigating the causes of both Saskatchewan derailments, which occurred on Dec. 9 and Feb. 6 near the small hamlet of Guernsey, about 100 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. Each crash spilled more than one million litres of crude oil. 

Nobody was injured in either of the derailments, which both involved Canadian Pacific Railway trains. 

Guernsey residents were evacuated overnight due to air quality concerns from the blaze that erupted from the tanks after the second crash. 

Nothing to indicate system-wide issue: CN

Finn said he is confident it is safe for trains to move at the revised speed limits issued on Sunday. He said there is nothing to indicate there are safety issues affecting the Canadian rail system as a whole. 

"At this stage we've seen nothing in this [Guernsey] derailment that impacts our network specifically and that's up to CP to address those concerns, not up to us … there's been no discussion that they've found something that is system-wide," said Finn. 

He said any widespread safety concerns that applied to all rail lines would be brought to CN's attention. 

"If there was something that was at that level Transport Canada, CN and CP and industry would have a conversation, but at this stage I've not been privy to those conversations." 

CBC News has also contacted CP Rail for a response to the amended speed limits. 

Puncture-resistant cars involved

The train that crashed on Feb. 6 was using new industry-standard tank cars designed to be more puncture-resistant than their predecessors. 

TSB investigators inspect train cars involved in the Feb. 6 crash. The new TC-117J tanks are designed to be more puncture-resistant. (Transportation Safety Board)

The train that derailed in December used a mix of jacketed TC-117R cars and CPC-1232 cars, which are not quite the same as the new TC-117J tanks involved in the February derailment. 

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

It found "minor non-compliances" on May 7 and Aug. 27, which it said were repaired by CP Rail within 30 days. It has not disclosed the nature of those non-compliance instances.

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