Canadian Pacific railways representatives said that railway companies have learned a lot since the Lac-Mégantic disaster almost two years ago. In fact, in council on Monday, Mike LoVecchio, director of Government Affairs for CP, noted the 18 contributing factors could be narrowed down to two. The first was that the train was not secured properly, which allowed it to get out of control. The train was estimated to be going 67-72 mph (108-116 km/h) on tracks certified for 10 mph (16 km/h).
“Part of the reason it was out of control is that the brake test was a faulty test,” he said. “The way the company involved administered the brake test involved using the locomotive brake in addition to the brakes on the cars. They really weren’t testing anything.”
LoVecchio said it’s difficult to accept that was their practice, adding that is not how they do or did things at CP.
The hand brake rule that CP used to apply called for “sufficient” brakes to be applied, then the throttle applied to make sure it is sufficient to hold the train.
“Sufficient means something very different in the Cranbrook yard, than it does on top of the Rogers Pass,” he said. “How did we know if something was sufficient? We would apply a number of handbrakes and put the locomotive in throttle.”
Transport Canada has changed the handbrake requirements to be based on tonnage and grade. LoVecchio said in his opinion that is a small step back from CP’s initial rule, as it introduces the human element.
“The only way you knew if a train was secure was to test it,” he said. “Now you have a piece of paper that says if you put a certain number of handbrakes on a car … you’re still supposed to test it, but it’s minus 30, you want to get back home…It introduces the human element.”
The second reason was earlier there was a locomotive fire which had occurred earlier and lead to the back up safety system being turned off. The combination of the two factors contributed to the incident.
LoVecchio said CP has also always operated with a two-man crew. That has also been made mandatory after Lac-Mégantic.
He also made the destination that a short line railroad like the operator involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster only has to carry $25 million liability insurance, while the long line class one operators like CP have to carry upwards of $1 billion liability insurance, with the ability to self-insure another $1 billion.
“So we’re talking about different universes,” he said. “In terms of our capability to train, in terms of our capability to finance our response. That’s an important principle because at the end of the day somebody’s got to pay the bill.”
He said for CP, the worst thing that can happen is a derailment as it stops the movement of trains on the tracks.
“The only way that we get paid is for the trains to continue moving,” he said. “We are motivated on safety from a number of different perspectives, not least of which is we need to keep moving our trains.”
CP operates in six Canadian provinces and 13 American states, which entails about 14,000 network miles across North America. CP owns the tracks and the right away alongside. The tank cars are owned by third-party lessors or product producers themselves. The product is owned by the producer. CP’s job is to move commodities safely from A to B, LoVecchio explained. CP is also liable in the event of incident.
“Cranbrook is a hub for us in terms of its location,” LoVecchio said. “Cranbrook is a key node along Fort Steele on the coal supply chain.”
That metallurgic coal is shipped from the Elk Valley to Vancouver.
Dangerous goods make up about eight per cent of CP’s total traffic.
Cranbrook’s fire department receives dangerous goods information from CP.
“That information helps your first responders to plan for a possible event,” he said. The information is an annual disclosure broken down by quarter.
“It gives the first response team the ability to plan their response and to do some flow analysis,” he said. “For instance we would expect to see a spike in anhydrous ammonia shipments around planting time. Anhydrous ammonia is a key ingredient in agriculture and fertilizer.
He said the Dangerous Goods manager, Jim Ross, has been out with the Cranbrook fire department over the last month to provide training.
That is happening across CP’s network.
The DOT-111 tank cars will be phased out in the service of dangerous goods in the next two years in Canada and three years in the U.S., which will have the effect of creating some sub fleets. The CTC-1232, in service since 2011, will also be phased out by 2025. LoVecchio said CP has been trying to move away from the DOT-111 for awhile and had introduced a levy on that type of train car.