Friday, March 2, 2007 at 8:59 pm

CN Safety Audit Released

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CN logo Remember how the W-Five report on CN’s safety record mentioned a Transport Canada audit done on CN that couldn’t be released without CN’s consent? Well, a funny thing happened: CBC News filed an access to information request, and the audit was released today. It’s available online, in two parts: part one was an inspection of CN’s operations; part two was an audit of their safety management processes.

A lot of material, and I haven’t had the time to go through it yet, and I doubt I’ll understand much of it when (and if) I do, but the CBC News article is lengthy and has many interesting highlights, viz.:

  • 54 per cent of inspected locomotives had safety defects, and more than one-third violated the Labour Code.
  • 26 per cent of inspected level crossings had inadequate sightlines.
  • In many locations, track was not in compliance.
  • Employees felt pressured, and (then) current practices allowed locomotives to continue in service despite defects.

CN complained to Transport Canada that the findings were inaccurate and misleading, blaming the “unstructured manner in which employees were questioned.” (As a rule of thumb, when someone complains about methodology, it’s usually to obfuscate the fact that they can’t challenge the evidence.) But, to be fair, Transport Canada says that CN is addressing eight out of 11 recommendations (but could do more).

And, while I like to give CN a hard time about this, truth be told, it’s unclear how any other North American railroad would stand up to this kind of scrutiny. The audit was done in the wake of CN’s massive summer of derailments in 2005, when Lake Wabamun and the Cheakamus River were devastated by CN spills and generated considerable public outrage and government scrutiny, and it seemed like hardly a day went by without another CN train leaving the tracks. Who knows what else is under the radar, without something similarly high profile to trigger a closer look?

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