Rail lines in poor condition caused March 2015 Gogama derailment: TSB

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada held a news conference this morning and has released its report on the second Gogama train derailment of 2015.

Standard dye test didn't happen, causing an internal defect to go unnoticed

Several tanker cars caught fire after a Canadian National Railway train carrying crude oil derailed in northern Ontario 0:58

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is recommending that Transport Canada incorporate predictive data on rail surface conditions to help better focus its targeted regulatory track inspections.

The Board's report on the March 2015 Gogama train derailment suggests the incident happened after a recently repaired rail within a joint broke under the train.

Dye test to find defects in track didn't happen

Three days before the derailment, a maintenance employee repaired a broken rail by installing a plug rail. The employee cut the defective rail out of the track, visually inspected the rest of the exposed rail ends, then installed the plug rail.

CN standards require a dye penetrant test to find defects not visible to the naked eye, but the employee didn't perform that before the repair.

That means a vertical split head, which is an internal defect, went undetected.

After the repair, the rail head ends within the joint were mismatched. The employee tried to grind the plug rail head end to ease transition, but it wasn't enough. A step between the two rail heads remained.

The TSB's report suggests a "slow order," which would have required trains to reduce speed at this location, should have been issued. But this didn't happen either.

The bridge crossing over the Makami River near Gogama was destroyed during the 2015 derailment. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

CN testing information 'difficult to find'

The employee knew about the dye test, but he had never done it or seen it before during his duties. The report suggests CN's training did not highlight the importance of the test, nor did it provide opportunities for practical hands-on training.

The report also states that CN's procedures for rail testing and installing a plug rail were located in multiple manuals, making them difficult to find.

The report notes that employees were not given checklists, which could have outlined the steps required to complete the work.

Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB, says railways gather information on leading indicators like localized surface collapse, rail end batter and crushed heads.

"Transport Canada needs to acquire this information," Fox said. 

"Without it, the targeted Transport Canada track inspections simply won't be as effective as they otherwise could be."

Training improved since derailment, says CN

CN spokesperson Patrick Waldron told CBC News that CN has improved safety measures across its network since the 2015 derailment.

"Nearly 450 track supervisors and track workers have gone through enhanced classroom and hands-on field training to provide them expanded knowledge and tools to better identify track issues and properly complete necessary repairs," Waldron wrote in an email.

"Among those tools are enhanced critical task checklists for various track repairs and maintenance, including dye penetrant tests."

This TSB diagram shows the aftermath of the derailment. Of the 39 derailed tank cars, 33 had been breached and released crude oil and other products. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Waldron says since 2015, CN invested around $400 million in rail infrastructure across northern Ontario, including 200 miles of new rail.

He also notes that CN is committed to the cleanup of the Makami River after the derailment caused extensive environmental damage to the surrounding area. This summer, the company continues to clean by flushing residual oil from the track embankment.

"CN...will not leave until that cleanup is complete, and then will continue to monitor conditions for many years," Waldron says.

Politicians weigh in on report

Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré released a statement on the report, saying that the federal government is committed to improving rail safety in Canada.

"A positive aftermath has materialized since the roundtable I facilitated regarding the Gogama derailments in September 2016, which included representatives of all levels of Government, CN, the Mattagami First Nation and Community leaders," Serré said in a release. 

"I am grateful all parties came together and helped ensure the lines of communication remained open for the residents of Gogama."

Meanwhile, Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas says she's relieved that the TSB finally released its report.

"The people of Gogama and Mattagami First Nation need answers, this report could help. It acknowledges that speed and maintenance were behind this disaster," Gélinas said in a release.

"I hope the people of Gogama and Mattagami First Nation can use this report to bring attention to the environmental mess in their community and their water ways."  

​Transport Canada to review recommendation

A spokesperson for Transport Canada says the department will examine the TSB's recommendations.

"Transport Canada shares the Transportation Safety Board's commitment to advancing the safety of Canada's transportation system and is committed to working with partners to further enhance the safety of Canada's railway system," the ministry told CBC News in an email.

The ministry has 90 days to respond in accordance with the Canadian Transportation Accident and Investigation Safety Board Act.

with files from Olivia Stefanovich

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.