Safety training cited in 2016 CN runaway

Written by Railway Age Staff
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Track diagram showing grades at CN's MacmIllan Yard/ Image: Transportation Safety Board of Canada

Authorities in Canada want better safety training for rail employees following a 2016 runaway incident.

The Transportation Safety Board is recommending that Transport Canada update the Railway Employee Qualification Standards Regulations to address existing gaps related to training, qualification and re-qualification standards, and regulatory oversight for employees in safety-critical positions.

The recommendation follows an investigation into the uncontrolled movement of rolling stock in 2016 at MacMillan Yard north of Toronto.

On the evening of June 17 of that year, a two-member crew employed by CN Railway was switching using a remote control locomotive system at MacMillan, in Vaughn. The crew had assembled a 9000-ton, 4500-foot-long train consisting of 74 cars (73 loads and one empty) and two locomotives – GP9RM 7230 and unpowered yard slug 207. Needing extra room, the crew received permission to move the cut south along a slightly ascending grade toward the edge of the yard and then downhill onto the main of the York Subdivision. When the crew attempted to stop and reverse back into the yard, the cut continued to move and rolled uncontrolled for about three miles, reaching nearly 30 mph before an ascending grade brought them to a stop. The foreman’s quick emergency call to a dispatcher asking for assistance to protect the uncontrolled movement prevented a collision.

The investigation found that the crew had not charged air brakes on any of the freight cars, which left only the independent brakes of the two locomotives to control the movement. The crewmembers were qualified conductors, but did not have sufficient operational experience to safely perform the tasks in this section of the yard. They had requested and received advance job briefings during which they reviewed operational requirements. However, the briefings, job aid and procedures did not provide them with sufficient guidance. The crew was aware of the assignment’s length and weight, but did not fully understand how these factors affected train handling on a descending slope using only the locomotives’ independent brakes. As conductors, they had received little training in locomotive operation and train handling, as this was not required under existing regulations.

“Since the Railway Employee Qualification Standards Regulations came into force in 1987, the rail industry has changed tremendously and the technology has evolved, but qualification standards and training requirements have not,” said Board member Faye Ackermans. “Consequently, railway employees in safety-critical positions may not be sufficiently trained or experienced to perform their duties safely.”

The TSB said that the number of occurrences involving uncontrolled movements has increased by about 10% in the past five years, compared to the 10-year average.

Following the incident, TSB said CN conducted a risk assessment that included a review of topography and air brake use in all its Canadian yards. Based on the review, CN implemented new minimum braking requirements for each yard including how many cars require charged air brakes prior to accessing main track.

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