CN track in northern Ontario received upgrades: Transport Canada

Transport Canada has confirmed CN made repairs to the tracks in northern Ontario in response to inspections done after a series of derailments earlier this year between Hornepayne and Sudbury.

Regulatory agency says rail line was inspected, but won't comment on issues that were found

Workers from CN along the Ruel Subdivision of track through Gogama. The company had three derailments on this main line between Hornepayne and Sudbury earlier this year. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Transport Canada has confirmed CN made repairs to the tracks in northern Ontario in response to inspections done after a series of derailments earlier this year between Hornepayne and Sudbury.

​The Transportation Safety Board has yet to release its final report on the two fiery train derailments that spilled oil near the community of Gogama in February and March, but a preliminary report indicated track deficiencies may be a contributing factor.

The agency is also looking into whether track conditions are to blame for a third derailment in March near Hornepayne. That wreck did not cause environmental damage as tanker cars were empty at the time.

In its preliminary report on the derailments near Gogama, the TSB recommended Transport Canada officials assess the nearly 500 kilometre section of track known as the Ruel Subdivision, which connects Sudbury and Hornepayne.

A piece of track from the March 7 Gogama train derailment site. The Transportation Safety Board points to broken rail in joint bars and wheel flange damage to top of joint bar. (TSB)

Transport Canada said it issued a safety notice to CN in March indicating it had concerns about rail safety on the Ruel Subdivision, and government inspections of the track were completed March 19.

Transport Canada declined to provide CBC News with information on what issues were identified with the tracks, but said CN took corrective action based on those inspections.

Follow up inspections of the undisclosed safety issues were scheduled for July, and Transport Canada said no major concerns were noted.

Top view of collapsed bridge from the March 7 Gogama train derailment site. (TSB)

But the agency also said CN has proposed more work for the rail line, and those plans are currently under review.

The safety notice issued for the Ruel Subdivision will stay in effect until the department is satisfied with the condition of the tracks, Transport Canada said.

CN declined to provide CBC News with more detail on repairs to the track through northern Ontario, but a company spokesperson said all immediate safety issues have been dealt with.

Immediately following the string of derailments, CN did lower the speed of freight trains on the Ruel Subdivision to 35 miles per hour, but on May 23, Transport Canada said that restriction was removed.

Few details

Railway consultant Greg Gormick said it is not usual for few details to be released regarding track repairs because national railways such as CN and CP are private corporations.

Government policy over the last few decades has also reduced the involvement of agencies like Transport Canada in the day-to-day monitoring of safety, he said.

Instead, that responsibility has been shifted to the companies themselves with oversight provided by Transport Canada.

Greg Gormick is a rail transportation consultant in Ontario. (CBC)

"You don't want to breach what would be considered the business secrets of the company, but there are a lot of things there that should be a lot more open and more accessible," Gormick said.

But Paul Miller argues putting the responsibility for safety on rail companies is a positive development because they are in the best position to monitor their tracks, and have the incentive to do it well because derailments are bad for business.

Miller worked for CN for 34 years and now works with the Canadian Rail Research Laboratory at the University of Alberta.

He says the string of derailments in northern Ontario caught the industry's attention.

"It was certainly concerning, and believe me, the most concerned people were the people at CN," he said.


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