A new federal ministerial order calls for Canada’s big two railways to significantly cut their train speeds in any areas deemed to be at an “extreme” fire risk.
“With extreme weather events occurring more severely and frequently in Canada due to climate change, it is important to have an adaptive regulatory system that responds to these new risks,” the government said Sunday in a release.
The new order “will put in place interim measures while (Transport Canada) works with railway companies to incorporate these fire risk reduction measures on a permanent basis into the existing regulatory framework for railway operations in Canada.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s order, in effect as of midnight PT on Saturday, requires Class 1 railways in Canada — that is, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway — to cut their train speeds wherever air temperature is above 30 C combined with an “extreme” fire danger level.
Specifically, when air temperature is 30 to 32 C and extreme fire danger level is declared, CN and CP must reduce train speeds to 25 miles per hour on track where permitted speeds are between 26 and 35 mph. On track where the allowed speed is 36 mph or faster, trains in those areas must reduce speed by 10 mph.
If air temperature rises to 33 C or higher in extreme fire danger areas, Class 1 trains must cut speeds to 25 mph on track where the permitted speed is 26 to 50 mph, and to 30 mph where permitted track speed is 51 mph or faster.
The order also requires CN and CP, until Oct. 31, to ensure no train runs in areas of extreme fire danger level, unless a train has been inspected in the previous 15 days to ensure the locomotive’s exhaust passages are clear of combustible material.
The “combustible material” includes any oil accumulation or any “carbonaceous deposits” thicker than 1/8 inch (three millimetres).
The order also calls for CN and CP to develop “interim extreme weather fire risk mitigation plans” within 14 days — addressing, “at a minimum,” fire detection, monitoring and response measures. Those plans must be communicated to municipal and other orders of government, including Indigenous governing bodies
The order also requires CN and CP to complete and implement “final extreme weather fire risk mitigation plans” within 60 days from the date of the order.
Saturday’s order follows a previous order that halted all trains on CN’s and CP’s subdivisions through the Kamloops, B.C. area over the weekend, ahead of an authorized tour Friday by evacuated residents to the largely-destroyed village of Lytton, about 160 km southwest of Kamloops.
The government, he said Sunday, “remains committed to supporting those affected by the devastating wildfires in British Columbia and will not hesitate to take any safety actions that are necessary to mitigate these risks to public safety and the integrity of railway tracks and infrastructure.”
The new order also puts more onus on CN and CP to watch for fires along tracks on their respective Ashcroft and Thompson subdivisions in the Kamloops area specifically.
Until Oct. 31, if operating when the fire danger level in the area of those subdivisions is deemed extreme, CN and CP must “incorporate the deployment of fire suppression capacity into their operations that will ensure a 60-minute response time to any fires detected along the right of way of the subdivisions.”
That added capacity, the order said, is meant to take steps to “extinguish or control” a reported fire, or to notify the fire service for the area “if the fire cannot be controlled without assistance.”
In those subdivisions, a conductor on any train will be responsible for spotting for fires and reporting any fires or “smouldering areas” to rail traffic control.
Any “vegetation control” work done along those tracks must be followed by “removal of combustible materials,” the order said.
CN and CP must also make sure “at least 10” fire detection patrols are run on those subdivisions every 24 hours, “unless a train has not operated on the relevant subdivision for a period of at least three hours.”
Saturday’s order also followed an announcement Friday from the federal Transportation Safety Board that it was deploying a team of investigators “following a fire potentially involving a freight train in Lytton, British Columbia.”
CN and CP last Thursday in separate statements pledged $1.5 million and $1 million respectively to wildfire relief efforts in the Lytton area.
The Ag Transport Coalition, which monitors Prairie grain movement by rail on behalf of member grain organizations and industry players, on Wednesday last week reported a “slowdown in operations as a result of the wildfires in the vicinity of Lytton.”
The coalition had reported “the closure of main lines for both CN and CP south of Kamloops effectively cutting off all access to and from the Port of Vancouver” at the time.
“We continue to expect an extended recovery time given the magnitude of the outage and the recognition that this disruption has impacted all commodity traffic, not just grain,” the coalition said. — Glacier FarmMedia Network