Canada’s TSB Recommends Indicators for Track Inspections

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is recommending that Transport Canada (TC) use predictive data on rail surface conditions in order to focus regulatory track inspections. The recommendation follows the investigation (R15H0021) into the March 2015 derailment of a Canadian National (CN) freight train near Gogama, Ontario.

On March 7, 2015, a CN unit train transporting 94 tank cars of petroleum crude oil derailed on CN's Ruel Subdivision. Although the train was travelling below the 50 mph speed limit, 39 tank cars derailed, spilling about 2.6 million liters of product, igniting and causing explosions. The derailment contaminated the Makami River and destroyed a CN rail bridge and approximately 1000 feet of track.

"The investigation found that certain data on deteriorating rail surface conditions are not always considered by Transport Canada when it plans its inspections," said TSB Chair Kathy Fox. "By integrating data on these 'leading indicators'—which could be predictive of future rail failures—the targeted inspections would be better focused."

The investigation found that the derailment occurred after a recently repaired rail within a joint broke under the train. Track maintenance was performed on the rail, but the TSB investigation showed that CN's procedures for rail testing were difficult to find and that CN's training did not highlight the importance of testing or provide opportunities for practical hands-on training.

"Railways gather information, including data on leading indicators, such as localized surface collapse, rail end batter, and crushed heads, and TC needs to acquire this information,” added Fox. “Without it, the targeted TC track inspections simply won't be as effective as they otherwise could be. This is the focus of the recommendation we issued today."