improving record, critics say CN safety is suspect
Source: Edson Leader
Published: April 14th 2008
CN says its safety record is improving, and accidents
have declined this year, but an official for the Canada Safety Council
(CSC) and Yellowhead NDP candidate Ken Kuzminski disagree.
Emile Therien, past-president of the Canada Safety Council, wonders why a report on railway safety was quietly tabled in the House of Commons on March 7 less than a month after CN derailments in southern Ontario -- one in Burlington on Feb. 18, followed by another in Halton Hills on March 8. Therien said if the same number of accidents had occurred in aviation there would be a public outcry.
In response to a number of serious derailments, many of which occurred on CN rights-of-way in 2005, federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon set up an Advisory Council on Railway Safety in December of 2005. But Therien blames part of problem on Transport Canada being downsized by the Chretien government in the late-1990s. Despite the number of derailments, CN officials continue to brush off the issue, Therien said.
"They get so defensive about this [but] they have a problem."
There had been a rumour that one of the main causes of derailments was that CN was shipping some of its heavier rail to the U.S. and replacing it with lighter-weight rail -- which could not withstand the heavier loads on Canadian railways. Therien alleged this might have a basis of fact. "I've heard that from a senior CN person."He added, this can be observed just by watching some of the freights going by. "Look at the track and these trains are weaving like a drunken sailor, one side to the other."
But CN director of Public Affairs Jim Feeny strongly
denies that heavy duty rails are being shipped south. "There's no truth
to that."Feeny said "partly worn rail" is shipped to other parts of CN's
system, as rails always wear out on one side. He said those rails are
re-installed in places that see less traffic. Feeny said tracks are well
maintained to Transport Canada standards "and beyond."
Kuzminski said he couldn't verify the rail rumour but added that several CN employees have mentioned the same story to him. The NDP candidate cited several recent derailments at Peers, Wabamun, Jasper and Hinton as proof that CN cares little about safety and more about profit. "I think they've been choosing to put profit over people, before safety, before the environment and before our communities." Kuzminski said when derailments occur they hurt communities, tourism, industries and the environment.
Feeny feels that CN has been unjustly singled out by the CSC and Kuzminski. "The news release from the Canada Safety Council is a complete misrepresentation," Feeny said. "It lacks balance. It doesn't portray an accurate picture of what's going on." In fact, said Feeny, the Advisory Council Report, which contains 50 recommendations on how to improve rail safety indicates, overall, that the Canadian rail industry is safe, but that it could be improved. "We don't dispute either of those statements."
He pointed out that the report mentions all the railroads in Canada as having derailments and safety issues -- not just CN. Feeny said CN has had its share of derailments but that its safety record is improving and the trend line is going in the right direction. "So far this year our total accident rate on CN [Transportation Safety Board reportable accidents] are about twenty per cent lower than it was last year," Feeny said. Feeny said CN standards, including safety, remain high, despite criticism to the contrary.
"CN is required, both by federal mandate and by its own policies to adhere to those regulations." He added, collective agreements with its employees also assures that they abide by them. "I really feel the remarks by the safety council are really not representative of the industry or at CN."