Two CP Railway trains carrying dangerous goods collided at Scotford Yard on Jan. 31, the third accident in two months at the site.
The collision occurred at approximately 7:30 p.m. while the trains were switching tracks. Both railcars were loaded with propane and one of them sustained minor damage to the ladder.
The two railcars collided at a low rate of speed (less than three kilometres per hour) and there were no reported injuries or leaks. The collision was not reported to the Transportation Safety Board, as is required, until three days later due to an “internal error,” according to CP Railway.
The collision occurred during a beltpack assignment, another word for Remote Control Locomotive System (RCLS), which allows train operators to drive trains remotely.
The most recent incident comes after two recent train derailments at Scotford Yard on Dec. 8 and Dec. 26. In the Dec. 8 incident, 99,000 litres of styrene monomer, a moderately toxic, highly flammable and highly-reactive chemical was spilled into the ditch.
In an email to the Record, CP Railway spokesperson Jeremy Berry said the incident is under investigation.
“The investigation is ongoing to determine the cause and any factors that may have played a role so that we can take corrective action,” he said. “Our preliminary findings indicate the cause of the incident is human error.”
CP Railway declined to answer whether the employee responsible for the human error was in any way related to the Dec. 8 or Dec. 26 incidents or if that employee was being penalized, but did say they are looking to learn what went wrong to try and prevent it from reoccurring.
According to Douglas Finnson, president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union that represents rail workers, the same employee was at least partially responsible for the Dec. 8 incident and the Jan. 31 incident.
“I can confirm that the same employee was involved in two accidents,” he said.
Finnson slammed CP Railway for what he says is inadequate training with the beltpack system for new employees.
“I’d be remiss to say I wasn’t seriously concerned with young, inexperienced employees running beltpacks on trains of oil,” he said.
He directly blamed what he perceives to be “sub-standard” training of employees for the accidents.
“When you have an inexperienced worker, working with another inexperienced worker, and you have an accident, would you put that same inexperienced worker back in that same situation again? This time with 200,000 litres of propane?”
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is not launching a formal investigation into the incident as they did with the Dec. 8 derailment because the damage was minor and nothing was spilled.
TSB regional manager of head office and western regional operations, Dan Holbrook, said there was a significant delay in CP Railway reporting the incident to the TSB.
The TSB requires reportable occurrences to be reported “as soon as reasonably possible.”
Usually, they receive reports within a half hour to an hour, Holbrook said. In this instance, it took three days.
“The railway staff at the time were unclear about TSB reporting requirements … That issue has been taken up with CP,” Holbrook said.
“We’re not launching a formal investigation, but we’ll certainly look at the circumstances surrounding the event,” he added.
He said potential derailments and minor collisions are a reality when it comes to switching assignments.
“When you’re dealing with locations like Scotford Yard, that’s handling a lot of dangerous commodities, the unfortunate reality is that even minor occurrences have the potential to become something of greater consequence, such as what happened on Dec. 8,” Holbrook said.
Despite repeated requests, CP Railway declined to provide a spokesperson for a phone interview to the Record to answer if the beltpack system was related to the collision.
They said RLCS technology is “safe and efficient” and employees using the technology have a robust training system.
“The RCLS training program includes classroom, online and on-the-job training,” Berry said in an email to the Record. “All employees trained to use RCLS are at least conductor qualified.”
RCLS is primarily used in yard operations and was reintroduced, with the latest technology, by CP Railway in early 2015.
Holbrook said he would not speculate if the reintroduction of the RCLS technology is related to the three occurrences in three months.
“I can’t say that the reintroduction of beltpack operations is the issue, but it’s certainly something we’re looking at and watching closely as our investigation progresses,” he said.
He said the safety board would be informally looking at not only how the beltpacks were reintroduced, but also at the training provided.
“We’re watching things closely,” he said. “This area, with the petrochemical industry and the frequency with which switching involves dangerous goods, makes (any incident) potentially much more serious.”