Dangerous Cargo

May 12, 2015 10:16 am
Trains -- Ottawa Life Magazine

The average number of rail accidents per year in Canada has changed very little over the years. While it’s fair to say that rail transportation is extremely safe, the number of those accidents which have involved dangerous cargo has risen. The new king of that cargo, crude oil, has had devastating effects on human lives, communities and the environment.

Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada boast of the rail safety record in Canada. Considering the huge volumes of cargo and the thousands of kilometres of track over every type of terrain, the safety record is high. About 99.998 per cent of dangerous goods shipments arrive at their destination without incident, according to the Railway Association.

However, organizations such as the Council of Canadians claim the accident figures given out by Transport Canada, for example, are significantly less than reality.

Regardless of this perceived discrepancy, the trend is clear. Rail accidents involving explosive, flammable, toxic or environmentally dangerous cargo have increased. The average number of reported accidents with dangerous goods between 2009 and 2013 is 59 while the number in 2013 alone was 61 and even higher in 2014 at 74.

The impact of some of these accidents, which are so much more dangerous than other accidents or derailments, can be devastating on communities or natural areas.

There are plenty of ideas in the works to improve the situation and some have been implemented since the Lac Mégantic tragedy. Dot 111 tank cars (a type of rail car — the long black, oval shaped one you sometimes see speeding by) have caused problems in the past and are no longer supposed to be used to haul crude oil. However, while it is a step forward it is not the total solution. Some recent derailments with explosions and fires had upgraded rail cars in use.

Calls by communities to know what is passing through their centres have also been heeded somewhat. Last year, the City of Hamilton called for rail companies to share daily, real-time information about shipments within the city, but has since said it is satisfied with amended information-sharing policies. Now that rail companies are to share the possible cargo contents quarterly, and in the case of disaster are to have information quickly available, the hope is that response to a derailment, fire or explosion will be more effective. Rail cars are marked with a label listing the contents inside, but when there is an accident, getting close enough to read the label may be impossible.

The reality is that highly explosive, flammable or poisonous substances will spill if there’s a crash. But are railways totally to blame? According to Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific, railways are required to ship whatever is a legal commodity. But now CP is asking for the ability to refuse shipment of certain goods, or of rolling stock containing dangerous cargo moving through major centres like Toronto and Chicago.

Of course regulatory changes, increased safety standards, better rail cars, better monitoring and maintenance, improved communications, more training for first responders, and reduction of the percentage of cars carrying hazardous goods per train are all steps in the right direction. They’re also steps that the Teamsters Canada Railway Conference has been calling for—in some cases, repeatedly and for a long time.

It seems that it takes a series of disasters, including significant loss of life, to make authorities listen to what the front line workers have been saying for years. Dangerous cargo should be reduced, it should be moved in better rail cars, it should be communicated to the people to whom it really matters, and other factors that increase the likelihood of accident, such as fatigue, should be changed.

In the event of a derailment or accident, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods section of Transport Canada can be reached at:

Ottawa: 613-992-4624
Atlantic: 1-866-814-1477
Quebec: 1-514-283-5722
Ontario: 1-416-973-1868

Photo by: Frederic Dekkal

Moving the Crops that Feed the World

March 19, 2015 1:14 pm
crops

One of the romantic visions often held of Canadian railways (and American for that matter) is that of the long lines of hopper cars filled with gleaming golden wheat and other grain and oilseed crops, on their way to feed people all over the world.

That vision was challenged in 2013 when media across the country reported the two major rail shippers, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (CP) and Canadian National Railway Co. (CN) were choosing to ship higher-value oil as cargo rather than shipping grain. Rail companies publicly stated an exceptional crop year was the reason the 2013 harvest sat in bins well into 2014. However, the bumper crop had been predicted for months. The railways also blamed bad winter weather over 2013-2014, and it was a truly bad winter across the country. But this is Canada, winter comes every year, and it’s often bad, so that excuse was not well received.

It took an order and threats of large fines from the Canadian government, which was acting on complaints from agribusiness lobbyists, to get grain, oilseeds and pulse harvests moving again. A year and a half later, many farmers are still feeling the backlog. CP and CN officials have stated that significantly more grain was moved in the fall/winter of 2014/2015 than the previous year. As good as that statement sounds, the backlog left over from 2013 was part of the reason more grain had to be moved. Some estimates say as much as $20 billion worth of Canadian crops was stuck on farms last winter instead of being sold and consumed.

In the end, the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission estimates that western grain producers lost over $3 billion in 2013-2014 and could lose an additional $2 billion over 2014-2015 because of failures in the transportation and handling systems.

Unlike oil, stored crops have a limited life and the longer the storage period, the higher the likelihood of deterioration, sometimes to the point of complete loss. Not only farmers pay the price for that, of course. Letting the crops that feed the world go bad and become worthless while oil is given priority has been characterized as unethical.

Even after the railways were told to get the grain moving, the damage had been done to the U.S. market. Numerous farm and agribusiness publications estimated losses of Canadian grain sales to the American and Mexican markets to be as high as 35 per cent, partly because when the needed grains weren’t available, food processing companies turned to other sources. Another factor is the direction grain was moved. Although ordered to ship hundreds of thousands of tonnes per week, the ultimate destination was not ordered. Railways may find it easier and cheaper to move grain to ports at Thunder Bay and Vancouver to be shipped by sea, rather than directly to American destinations.

Individual farmers in this country, most of whom are already under stress due to many factors beyond their control, end up losing good prices for their crops, which are a fluctuating commodity at the best of times. It is also individual farmers who must pay for grain storage, either on their own farm or at an elevator, and it is those same farmers who must pay additional fees when their grain sits in a port terminal instead of being sold. The Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission recommends the formation of a rail oversight group within the Canada Transportation Act which would include representatives from agricultural producers.

Since the federal government order, both shippers have been fined for non-compliance. In January, CP announced it would appeal a $50,000 fine levied for failing to meet weekly mandatory shipping volumes, stating that the railway should not be responsible for every glitch in the supply chain. CN, which was charged twice, stated it would pay the two fines and move on. For the sake of farmers and their clients, one can only hope the railways will work more closely and cooperatively with producers to improve transportation time of that gleaming golden wheat and other crops. Time will tell.

Teamster Canada Rail Conference: Don Ashley

January 29, 2015 11:37 am
Don Ashley

Don Ashley is the new National Legislative Director for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and one of his primary concerns is safety for the members of his union and for the public. He has spent his life since college as a railway worker. He started as a trainman, progressed to conductor, then went on to become an engineer.

He also brings with him a wealth of experience in the field of government relations. Over the last 25 years, he has been elected to legislative positions at the division, provincial executive and national levels where he advocated for members in the areas of Worker’s Compensation, Employment Insurance, Canada Pension Plan and Health and Safety Tribunals. He also sat as a side person on the Board of Referees for Service Canada, sat on the board of directors for the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers and was involved with the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress.

“This has allowed me to make strong alliances in the labour movement,” Ashley says, which he anticipates will aid his tasks including helping rebuild solidarity throughout the TCRC.

He plans to refocus on the goals and objectives of members but says his intent has not really changed since the beginning. “We have always wanted to improve members’ lives by making the job safer and addressing work-life balance,” he says. “We also need to protect rights and privacy,” which he anticipates could become an issue in future.

Like many railroaders, he is concerned about fatigue. “It impairs the ability to react.” In the event of mechanical breakdown or any other potential accident scenario, employees, who are also at risk and may have to act as emergency first responders, need to be alert and not overtired.

“We can improve equipment to make railways safer, but we always have to remember that people are the ones running the trains.”

The Heroes of Rail

January 23, 2015 1:34 pm
railway

Railways in Canada have a high safety record, but trains’ masses and the speeds they travel mean collisions have the potential to be deadly. Whether it’s a person on the tracks, a vehicle in the way, or a derailment, when an accident happens, the first responders at the scene are often the train crew. They are also often in danger themselves.

The Transport Safety Board record of fatal accidents frequently lists crew members who have been hurt or killed. Sometimes they have risked their own lives to help others.

In 2007, CP Rail engineer Lonnie Plasko died in a train hurtling down a grade towards Trail, B.C., after telling his co-workers to jump. It seems he stayed aboard the engine to try to control the train, which was hauling ammonium sulphate. The train narrowly missed crashing into the pipelines and power lines of the Teck Cominco smelter there. Co-workers and townspeople praised his actions, saying the accident could have been far worse had Plasko not sacrificed himself.

Even if the railway worker is not in physical danger, playing the role of rescuer can come at great cost. In 2013, Chris McMillan was the conductor on a train in an accident with a minivan at a Belle River, Ontario crossing. As soon as the train stopped McMillan ran more than a kilometre back to the van and the occupants — three young children and a father, all with severe injuries. While the engineer remained in the engine to stay on the radio with Rail Traffic Control, ambulance and police, McMillan stabilized the driver, pulled the children from the van and began first aid and CPR.

“I was by myself for about 20 to 25 minutes, trying to help a young father and his four young kids.” McMillan worked on the children he had extracted from the van, laying them side by side in the rescue position so he could perform CPR on all of them. The OPP and fire department and ambulance arrived. “They did an amazing job,” said McMillan, “and were able to get the infant and father out of the crushed car.” The two little girls had no pulse and died at the scene. A boy was critically injured and in hospital for two months. The father survived his injuries and the baby was not seriously hurt.

Despite immediate post-trauma counseling, McMillan is still plagued with flashbacks and nightmares. “After this extreme tragedy, I was diagnosed with PTSD, and off work for close to four months.” In his previous 18 years of railroading he had never been involved in a serious accident.

Kirstin Campbell is a trainman and conductor in Smiths Falls, Ontario. She can’t count the number of times she has seen children playing on railroad tracks, and other incidents like a driver in a van full of children driving around closed crossing gates and children on bicycles playing chicken with the train. She’s part of the Operation Lifesaver program, which works with community organizations providing information to professional drivers, the general public, and also to first responders such as police, firefighters and paramedics.

Campbell’s role is to travel to schools and talk to students about safety. Her message is simple. “I tell them, I don’t want to get hurt and I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Many of the accidents involving vehicles or people on the tracks end in serious injury or death. Everyone working in rail advises the public to remember that a train might take two kilometres to stop, and it can’t steer out of the way. If you are in front of a moving train, you, and maybe the people on the train too, are in real danger.

Says McMillan, “I have another 12 years to go before retirement. I hope I am not involved in any more accidents.”

Paul Proudlock on Rail Safety

January 15, 2015 9:35 am
Rail-Frederic Dekkal

Photo by Frederic Dekkal

Paul Proudlock has been a railway man for almost 25 years. For the last several years he has also been an outspoken proponent of increasing rail safety, and one of his biggest concerns is fatigue among railway workers.

paulProudlockHe is presently an engineer for CP Rail and is also a special representative with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. Some of his duties with the TCRC include publicly addressing safety issues, but that can cause some friction.

In 2009 he spoke out about being asked to run a GO Train on a couple of hours of sleep and he later joked, “I was surprised I still had a job after that.” However, running something as large, fast and dangerous as a train on tracks that go through highly populated communities is no laughing matter.

He compares it to driving impaired and makes a good point. It is illegal to drive a motor vehicle if impaired by any means, including lack of sleep, so it seems logical to extend that requirement to engineers, conductors and anyone else working with running stock.

He is a passionate speaker on the subject and his fiery delivery matches his red hair. His passion extends to his job, as does most railroaders, and he would prefer not to be confrontational, but also feels ignoring the problem is a disservice to the entire industry.

“It’s great if the railway corporations do well, but we and they have to make sure our jobs are done right and done safely.” Concern for co-workers who have witnessed horrific accidents and been involved in near-misses is a constant motivation for him, one increased by recent rail accidents. His philosophy is, “If staff say they’re too tired to be out on a train, then they are. The working people are the answer. Listen to them.”

Fatigue on the Job is a Killer

January 8, 2015 12:00 pm
RailSafety

It has been known for decades, probably centuries, that working while tired can impair productivity, and that working in dangerous occupations like driving, loading or handling heavy equipment should not be done while tired.

So why do railway companies seem determined to risk so many of their assets by asking employees to work while fatigued? According to a leaked Canada Transport Safety Board document, fatigue among railway workers has been linked to accidents, including loss of life and extensive property loss, since the Hinton, Alberta train collision which killed 23 people and injured 95 back in 1986. That same report states that federal work/rest rules date back to 2001, that a working group established in 2009 created regulations for a fatigue management plan to be enacted by 2011, and that an assessment of the fatigue management plans for the Big Three (CN, CP, VIA) showed significant gaps.

The stories from employees on fatigue are particularly revealing. Altering work schedules despite driver exhaustion, too short a break between shifts are only two examples of problems. Vehicle drivers are not suppose to drive while impaired by fatigue, so why engineers should and conductors be mandated to do so?

When a railway schedule is thrown out of whack, staff are told thy have no choice but to work even if they have not slept. If they don’t, they are marked down as “refusing to work,” which means they would be taken out of the next shift rotation, or penalized in some other fashion.

“In 2009 I was up until about midnight one night, because I was scheduled to be running a freight train the next afternoon and should have had a normal night to sleep and the morning to eat,” says Paul Proudlock, an engineer who has spoken out about the dangers of crew fatigue. “Then I was called at 2:15 a.m. by a dispatcher and told to run a GO Transit passenger train in three hours.” Proudlock told the dispatcher he was unfit to work and wanted to stick to the rotation for the next afternoon. He says the dispatcher told him that if he answered the phone he had to go. Proudlock refused and asked to speak to management. He was then told that regardless of having had only two hours of sleep, he had to take the shift or be investigated, and possibly given demerit points, for refusing duty.

Proudlock’s story is common, and sometimes railway workers who are afraid of losing their jobs don’t declare themselves unfit to work even though they are. As a result everyone is put at risk. Freight trains can be as much as 16,000 tonnes in mass, can travel at up to 100 kilometres per hour, and frequently run through communities close to residences and businesses.

The Teamsters Canada Railway Conference union of railway workers has been asking that the science of fatigue be incorporated into agreements with railway owners. “The science on sleep patterns can be used to prevent bad scheduling,” says Proudlock.

But it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to realize that sleep is essential to proper functioning, and it is well-known that shift workers (which includes most railroaders) have a hard time with constant readjustments to sleep patterns. To have a wrench thrown into their schedules at the last minute is not only cruel, it’s dangerous.

The rules also appear inadequate. For example a “back to back” schedule means eight hours of work, eight hours off, then another eight hours of work. During the eight hours off period the employee has to go home, sleep, eat, prepare for the next shift, do whatever they need to do on a daily basis, then go back to work. In that time there may be a chance to sleep for four or five hours, and that’s if the worker can fall asleep instantly when wanted, which is unlikely.

Another issue frequently mentioned is an unpredictable “on call” system. It is often a consequence of a problem called inaccurate line-ups, which the TCRC has begun documenting. The TCRC website states, “It is a common occurrence to see extreme variations in train line-up times.” Incorrect train positioning sometimes causes crew changes, which aggravates the scheduling issue, which aggravates the number of fatiqued workers.

Since at least 1995 Transport Canada has recommended fatigue countermeasures, the first one being that railways provide regular and predictable duty periods, which is what workers have been asking for. Recommendations also include rest after outbound night runs and prior to overnight return runs, implementing napping strategies which includes exempting napping crews from train inspection responsibilities, and training rail traffic controllers and dispatchers, yet situations like Proudlock’s are still happening today.

Isn’t it time the railways, the union and the government all got on board? Protect their assets, protect their workers and protect the public at large by realistic scheduling, and maybe they’ll protect some lives too.

New Spirit of Cooperation in Rail

October 28, 2014 2:05 pm
Rail-Frederic Dekkal

Photo by Frederic Dekkal

Everything old is new again, and a new spirit of cooperation in negotiations between the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) union and two of Canada’s biggest railways, CN and VIA Rail, has the potential to use old-style sitting down and talking to change a century of adversarial posturing.

“As far as we know, none of the other big unions have tried this,” says TCRC president Rex Beatty. “The first step we’re proposing is that the parties to negotiations (such as at VIA and CN) not trigger the bargaining process as provided by the Canada Labour Code without first meeting to discuss the issues.”

This may not sound like a radical idea, because in many industries that’s how wages and terms are already set, but for union leaders to propose a forward-thinking approach in cooperation with the corporate owners is surprisingly new.

Why is this important and why now? In the past, a document called Notice to Bargain, had to be submitted, meaning that within a mere 15 days the parties had to reach a substantive agreement. This notice had to be provided some time within the 120 days prior to a contract’s end.

If agreement was not reached quickly the parties could go to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board for a decision.

But Beatty and other TCRC executive members realized the pressure of having only 15 days to reach an agreement about issues that may have simmered for years was not only unnecessarily adversarial, but also counterproductive in more ways than one.

The government (regardless of political stripe) and the public tend to consider most shipping by rail to be an essential service, meaning that striking railway workers can be legislated back to work. Because of this, a strike will not be allowed to go on too long.

It’s been a game of brinksmanship for a long time. “Our members don’t want to shut down the railroads, provided the issues can be addressed on an equal playing field. This is something we believe has been missing in past negotiations, but is essential to a successful outcome for both parties,” Beatty says. “So we’re suggesting two major changes.”

The first change is for both parties to meet for discussions on process and possible negotiations outside the Labour Code’s bargaining cycle (triggered by the Notice to Bargain). Either party can initiate this potential change within 120 days of the existing contract’s expiry. This way the 15-day mandatory period for entering into a Maintenance of Activities Agreement does not kick in.

The second change is more controversial. “We believe both parties want to avoid disrupting the lives of many people,” Beatty says. “So we’re proposing that we’ll keep working on reduced salary—for example starting at 10 per cent less. But the railroad has to give up 10 per cent of its earnings as well, with the reductions collected placed into a fund for charity.”

It is an innovative approach. This method of both parties having an equal sacrifice was used in Toronto during a dispute over GO Train workers’ contracts.

“The concept of working for reduced income was first initiated by the Union in 2006. Some of the collected funds were donated to institutions such as Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital,” says Beatty. “This gives both parties incentive to settle differences quickly, on a level playing field, without government involvement, and without slowing down the transportation of the country’s goods.”

Railroads are then assured they can still operate and retain customers, and railway workers are assured of employment. “At the same time,” says Beatty, “we’re being responsible to the needs of the general public and the country, and saving everyone a lot of time, money and aggravation.” It also avoids the problem any industry fears when customers have to find alternatives—some of those customers never come back.

The TCRC now has CN and VIA on board, and hopes to have other Canadian railways soon. The current method of arbitration picks a loser and a winner, and causes animosity between parties, but maybe that will now change. “VIA officials took a leap of faith and we reached an agreement within days. Then CN asked about the process at VIA and soon its Locomotive Engineers had a collective agreement, ratified by large numbers, before the expiration of their existing contract,” Beatty says. “Our proposal is an extension of that process.”

Sitting down and talking about issues without legally-binding deadline pressures, levelling the playing field regarding wins and losses in a dispute, and considering all parties’ needs—including the customers’—may not be revolutionary ideas, but they sure seem like a good place to start.

Jean-Michel Hallé

October 21, 2014 1:01 pm
Sept14_Rail_Jean-Michel Hallé

ABOVE: Teamster Jean-Michel Hallé takes a rest from union matters and recharges on the water.

Described as “up and coming” by his colleagues at Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC), Jean-Michel Hallé has recently taken over the union position of General Chairman of CN Eastern Lines, which includes negotiations between union members and railways.

He followed his father into the railroad business and has worked as a trainman, conductor and engineer. “I like it. The work is not routine. There are different shift times, usually with different crews, various weather conditions, working on small trains or big trains. Every day is different.”

Now full time at the TCRC, his environment is different, but he still travels at least once a week. One thing he doesn’t miss is the sleep disruption caused by an industry that runs 24/7. That said, working around the clock has its moments too. “Sometimes you’ve been up all night, but then you see a sunrise. You’re tired but it’s good.”
His work now revolves around collective agreements, bargaining, grievances and building cases for arbitration, as well as making sure the office is running smoothly. “I try to make sure that applications and intentions of agreements are respected by the companies and by our members.”

He was involved with the new method of collective bargaining led by TCRC president Rex Beatty. Hallé says, “Hopefully at the end we’re sitting across the table and both sides are happy. We try to find solutions that are good for both parties, not just say, ‘These are our demands!’ We have to live together.”

He feels that union roles have changed, but unions are as important as ever. “With the global economy and the constant growing greed of corporations, we cannot let anyone destroy what took hundreds of years to build up.”

Profiles: Rob Smith

July 30, 2014 10:01 am
Rob-Smith-11

Rob Smith is a fourth-generation railroader. Hailing from Perth, Ontario, he started as a brakeman (a position now called a trainman) with CP Rail in nearby Smiths Falls, where he spent much of his career.

The legislation of safe working conditions for railway workers and the communities through which railways pass was important to him, and for the last 20 years it has been a big part of his work.

After his first few years with CP, he qualified as a conductor, then in 1984 as an engineer. It was in the 1990s that he became seriously involved with the union, first as a representative at the local level, then in 2001 he joined the provincial legislation board of the Teamsters Canada Railway Conference (TCRC) in Ontario. He is currently the TCRC’s National Legislative Director.

Like most people who have worked the front line in the rail industry, he was shocked by the set of circumstances that led to the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. Changing the rules and enforcement that led to the situation is important to him. However, he is passing on the torch. “I’m not seeking re-election this fall,” he says. In fact, he is retiring.

He has been getting ready for the change. When he has not working in the TCRC’s office in Ottawa, he has been on the road. “I practically live out of my suitcase,” he says. It is something he plans to do a lot more of in the next few years. His grown children live in Vancouver and his wife is already retired. On October 28, the newly-retired railroad man will be getting on a train and crossing the country to Vancouver. “I’ve already got my Grey Cup tickets,” he says.

Lac-Mégantic

July 29, 2014 3:40 pm
Destruction at ground zero in Lac-Megantic

Everyone knows a Montreal Maine and Atlantic (MMA) train without engineer careened into Lac-Mégantic last July, derailed, exploded, killed 47 people, injured many others, destroyed the town’s centre, polluted lake and soil, and tore out the community’s heart.

Blame has since been widely laid, from CEO Edward Burkhardt blaming the town’s volunteer firefighters, to MMA’s procedures, the Bakken Oil Field crude cargo, MMA staff and directors, federal government departments, rail inspectors and recently the engineer.

But one error, made by one man, does not cause a disaster. Other likely factors include short-sighted policies, incomplete regulation and enforcement and acceptance of questionable industry efficiencies.

Questions asked by the public are also on the minds of Canadian railway workers and their union representatives at the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC). “I was in Montreal when it happened,” says Rob Smith, TCRC’s National Legislative Director. “When I heard there was one person on the train, it caught me completely off guard,” He is mystified as to why Transport Canada (under then-minister Denis Lebel) granted permission for single-person operations. “Only one other railway in Canada is granted single-person operation and that’s the Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway, which had to meet 69 conditions first.”

These conditions include technology like GPS and proximity detectors, which it does not appear MMA was equipped with, and non-hazardous ore cargo hauled where there are very few crossings. From evidence released so far, it appears MMA was hauling crude in long, heavy trains in single-hulled tanker cars meant for non-volatile liquids, without proper placarding regarding the chemical composition of the Bakken Oilfield crude, on a former short-line track without signalling, through the centres of towns. “Where was the risk assessment for this?” asks Smith. “The TCRC would not have sanctioned anything like it.”

What if the engineer has a heart attack, falls asleep, doesn’t notice something? A reset safety control is supposed to kick in and activate brakes. Was that control operative on the MMA train that night? So far, publicly- released information doesn’t reveal when the older model locomotive was last inspected, but in Canada the Locomotive Safety Inspection Rules state that all locomotives need a functioning reset safety control.

Smith notes technologies that act as fail safes sometimes fail too. “We still need the checks and balances,” he says, referring to human oversight.

Until he saw the fire, he and most colleagues had not known that crude oil, not normally explosive, could contain volatile gases. Secrecy surrounding dangerous cargo has long been a sore point for the TCRC and communities—who are calling for more transparency.

“We need to know what’s in the cargo,” says TCRC President Rex Beatty who saw the devastation left at Lac-Mégantic. “We need to be able to tell police and firefighters exactly what dangerous chemicals are in which tankers.”

Municipalities are notified quarterly, but only of cargo which has already passed through.

Beatty and Smith also suggest training first responders in hazardous materials handling, including train crews, and local fire departments and emergency services.

Should an old short line carry large heavy Class One trains? That track is in Occupant Control System Territory, without signals, which railroaders call “dark territory”. So no signals alerted the railway traffic controller of a runaway train on the track.

The perfect storm of factors potentially includes fatigue, equipment failure, lack of monitoring, volume of train, possible lack of inspection and maintenance and gravity. Says Smith, “It jumped out at me. Why would you leave a train staged on a grade if you didn’t have to?”

Released evidence says the locomotive was spewing oil droplets and had smoky exhaust. The engineer left, the fire started and was put out. But why was a locomotive which had just been on fire kept running? Why wasn’t it replaced with another engine?

Engineer Thomas Harding is being blamed for not setting enough handbrakes, but those actions may not have mattered if the train had been level, if a second engineer or a conductor helped set the brakes and test them, if the train had been completely shut down for the night as is usual in Canadian operations, if the MMA had responded to the locomotive fire by taking that engine off the train, or if standard regulations to stage a train while engineers rest were implemented and enforced.

“That should be a standard procedure,” says Smith. “Any unattended train should be properly secured and left on emergency. That is: shut down, all air out of the lines, which automatically puts on all the brakes, the keys out, the reverser handle taken, and often the locomotive detached from the train.”

Since the tragedy the federal government has made some changes, but do they go far enough? Thin- hulled DOT-111 tanker cars will no longer be allowed to carry petroleum products, but the TCRC suggests they should not carry volatile chemicals, like chlorine and propane either.

Protective Direction 32 requires railways to tell municipalities what dangerous goods the company is transporting through them, but states railways are not required to provide that information if municipalities don’t keep the information secret, and the information is out-of-date.

The federal government has banned one-person crews, but only on trains carrying hazardous cargo. Why should any train be allowed to run with one person —even a commuter train? Considering the mass and momentum, doesn’t the buddy system just make sense?

“Well,” says Smith, “four eyes are better than two.”

Profiles: Kirstin Campbell

June 3, 2014 12:27 pm
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Unlike so many of her collegues, Kirstin Campbell didn’t come from a family who worked on the rail. But after being with CP Rail for ten years she now describes herself as a railroader. 

She first got hooked while was working as a server in a Merrickville, Ontario pub. She got to know many retired trainmen, conductors and engineers. One of Campbell’s regulars mentioned that CP was hiring new crew in Smiths Falls and suggested she try it out.

Campbell says, “I heard their stories all the time. I’ve always been a bit of a gypsy, so packing a bag and hopping on a train sounded great.”
She applied, was hired and spent six months in a training program that is much like apprenticeship, with classroom time followed by hands-on experience, then back to class. She is now a trainman, conductor and is qualified as an engineer.

Her biggest concern is children near tracks. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen kids playing on the tracks,” she says. But even worse are adult drivers who don’t seem to understand that 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes can take three kilometres to stop. “So many people take risks at crossings—driving around the gate when it’s down with lights flashing.” One of her scariest moments was caused by a woman in a minivan. “She had five or six kids in her van and she drove around the gates as we were approaching. I was sure we would hit them.”

In spite of the strange hours, lack of rest, disruptive schedule and the dangers out on the main line she loves her job. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s fascinating.”

Profiles: Rex Beatty

May 26, 2014 11:38 am
Portrait of Rex Beatty, President of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference

Like most railway workers Rex Beatty started when he was a young man. Beginning as a brakeman and becoming a conductor he has always been an active union member, and in 2011 he was elected president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC).

The TCRC is an autonomous group within the Teamsters and represents 11,000 Canadian Railway Running Craft workers, among others such as, engineers, conductors, yard workers, rail traffic coordinators. Throughout his career Beatty has always been an advocate for safety, so it is understandable that he is especially vocal now.

“Rail is safe in Canada as long as proper procedures and processes are complied with,” says Beatty. “Those procedures and processes have to be transparent.” One of his worries is that engineers and conductors, who are also the first responders in a rail accident, are not allowed to know what cargo they’re carrying. “We need to be able to tell police and firefighters what chemicals are dangerous, what can happen.” He also advocates for medical training for the running crafts.
He’s had many accomplishments in his long career, and one of the achievements he is most pleased to be part of was the negotiation and ratification of a new collective agreement, without any work stoppage and before the previous contract had expired. For that he doesn’t want credit—he says it was the work of the team and the willingness of everyone, especially the carriers, to sit down and talk.

“It’s not in our interests to have companies fail. If they succeed it’s good for our members,” he says, but he opposes the layoffs of TCRC members. Reduced staff saves railways money but also reduces service, which has a negative impact on the industry, the economy, the workers themselves, and the communities trains pass through. “The bottom line can’t go ahead of safety.”

That’s something most Canadians understand.

Heal the Rail

May 21, 2014 2:42 pm
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photo by Frederic Dekkal

When rail charters were first extended in the 1800s, the great gift of expropriated land came with expectations— that far-flung communities would be well-served, that grain would get to ports quickly and affordably, that goods would be moved efficiently for the betterment of the economy, and that it would be overseen with a keen eye. 

Despite the romantic view of the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways tying a country together, railway operation has always been motivated by profit. Railway corporations are now traded on the NYSE and TSX. Over 100 railways are registered on the Transport Canada website, of which onethird fall under federal jurisdiction through the Canadian Transportation Agency, and almost two-thirds under provincial jurisdiction.

Lobbying efforts by the owners of the biggest railways, including CN and CP (corporations partially supported by public funds and widely believed to be part of the “the public good” a century ago) have won deregulation. Critics suggest that allowing reduced staff has cut operating expenses but increased the likelihood of error. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP are now saying that some of the rules have were adopted need to change, including not allowing engineers and conductors to look at or review Safety Management Systems. Engineers, conductors and rail traffic controllers (RTCs) formerly had their own unions, but those unions shrank as jobs were shed when rail service was shrinking. About ten years ago those workers joined the Teamsters to form the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC). Around the same time rail began to rebound and has since continued to grow.

The TCRC had often expressed concern on the issue of softening rail safety regulations and lack of transparency. However recent events have brought the issue of rail safety to the forefront of public consciousness— especially the tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment in which a heavily-laden Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MMA) train exploded in July, 2013, taking half of the pretty little tourist town’s centre with it, and 47 lives.

Canadians were shocked by the devastating losses due to an industry most considered safe, if they thought about it at all. Canada’s safety record with rail is high, but that and other recent incidents highlight the inherent risks of dangerous cargo and the relentless momentum of 15,000 tonnes of rolling mass. Speed that cargo and mass through populated or environmentally-sensitive areas and the potential for disaster is an everpresent threat. It’s not the place to cut corners.

With Canada’s vast size and wealth of resources a national rail transportation system is crucial to Canadian communities and to the entire country’s economic well-being. Yet about ten years ago deregulation, including allowing public trading on the stock exchange, resulted in shareholders and very highly paid chief executives suddenly seeking “efficiencies”, like laying off conductors. “We were worried,” General Chairman of the CP Quebec committee, Benoit Brunet, says. “They were warned then that deregulation could decrease safety.”

Another culprit is tension between rail companies and some of Canada’s Big City Mayors. This was brought into focus in June 2013 when a Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) train derailed near the core of floodbattered Calgary. The derailment and partial bridge collapse triggered by surging flood waters, left six train cars containing petroleum products hanging precariously over Calgary’s Bow River, forcing the diversion of emergency crews from the city’s flood-recovery efforts and shutting down a water-treatment plant and a major freeway. Even in a state of emergency, Calgary wasn’t able to inspect CP’s 101-year-old bridge. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi criticized CPR over its safety record, while saying cities should push for more power over the industrial goods running by their backyards. “How is it we don’t have regulatory authority over this, but it’s my guys down there risking their lives to fix it?” the mayor said, as Calgary fire crews worked to keep the train cars stable. “We have to have a serious conversation about this. This is a private business, and private businesses are subject to regulation.”

Mr. Nenshi added that it is a “constant frustration” for mayors across Canada that the rail industry answers only to the federal government. That incident led CP chief executive officer Hunter Harrison, to say that the derailment was unforeseen and he suggested that closing the bridge indefinitely after the flood as a precaution would cost money. “We didn’t anticipate a problem like this occurring at all. And how long was that going to be? We’re jeopardizing commerce as it speaks.” Money first seemed to be the mantra. Then in April 2014, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Foreign Affair Minister John Baird expressed concerns about VIA Rail and its poor record in communicating with local residents about its safety record at rail crossings. Mayor Nenshi and Mayor Watson are now pushing for cities to have more power over railways running through their communities.

Now the TCRC, headed by president Rex Beatty, is launching a campaign to heal the rail—calling for changes and inviting public involvement. “You can’t put a price on safety,” Beatty says. Most members agree, including Brunet and General Chairman and VIA engineer Bill Michael.

Kelli Stewart, Rail Traffic Controller, says, “Railway safety encompasses every aspect of an RTC. The main priority of an RTC is to ensure the safest measure is always taken when any movement occurs on the main line. This is done through strict adherence to Canadian Rail Operating Rules, which govern the safe operation of trains, transfers and foremen.”

“Rail safety is the main priority. Nobody should be worried about making it home,” says Kirstin Campbell, a trainman and conductor.

Staffs at CP and CN are frequently told they are now accountable to shareholders. But the TCRC asks, who has the most at stake? Not shareholders or CEOs—who only stand to lose money. The real stakeholders are the front line staffs who, by keeping themselves and their coworker’s safe, keep the public safe at the same time. “If the CEO of a railway is the head,” says Teamster and engineer Paul Proudlock, “we’re the heart. We’re the conscience of the railways.

CANADIAN RAILWAYS: Assisting Canada’s Environmental Performance

November 23, 2012 10:00 am
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Canada’s railways run an average of 1,100 passenger and goods trains every day, often over some of the world’s most rugged terrain and in some of the world’s worst weather conditions. Canada’s railways have the best safety record in North America and provide by far the safest means of ground transportation in Canada. Yet this is but one of the many achievements that make Canadian rail a great story to share.

Environmental policies in Canada, at federal and provincial levels of government, are being developed in response to public demands for improved air quality, reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increased energy efficiency. In response, the Canadian government issued Turning the Corner: Canada’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in 2007. The plan provides an outline of policies and programs to improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions, including a commitment to put in place regulations on locomotive emissions. Provinces are also proceeding with their own strategies and programs to mitigate the growth in GHG emissions and improve air quality. Like other countries, Canada is faced with the challenge of reducing emissions growth in a highly competitive global economy. At the same time, Canada’s economic strength and community well-being must be assured.

And this is where the rail sector can be a key component in an environmental strategy to reduce emissions associated with transportation activity.

Railways are vital to Canada’s economy and society. They are an extension of the nation’s industry and resource base. They provide a seamless system linking the regions to national, North American and global markets through major centres, borders and trade gateways. They contribute $10 billion annually to the economy, directly employ some 35,000 people and handle 75 per cent of the nation’s surface freight on a tonne-kilometer basis.

Canada’s freight railways are in a continual process of investing, modernizing and adapting to meet and support market demands and improve the efficiency of their operations. Major advances in locomotive technology, infrastructure and communications systems have been introduced and widely implemented across the industry. System-wide, continuing improvements in operations have been undertaken to optimize capacity and fluidity. These include areas such as formal track-sharing arrangements between railways, expanded or new terminals, and efficient intermodal/container and bulk movements. In addition, since the mid-1990s, many short- line railways have been formed across Canada to maintain the links between the regions, mainlines and the global economy.

The rail passenger sector, now carrying 72 million passengers annually, has been responding and adapting to the market and consumer needs. The sector is investing in the modernization of rolling stock, expanding its facilities and providing increasingly attractive travel options for urban commuters within high- density population corridors, as well as increasing demand for intercity travel.

Canada’s freight railways pay their own way; they finance, build, operate, police and pay property tax on their right-of-ways. In 2010, Canada’s railways invested more than $1.75 billion in their infrastructure and rolling stock. When it is considered that Canada’s transportation infra- structure deficit may be as high as $100 billion, the railways’ independent ability to efficiently serve Canadian industry and travelers becomes of very high value. Despite vast distances, rugged topography and climate extremes, Canada’s railways are among the most efficient and well-managed in the world.

Importantly, Canada’s railways are also making major environmental contributions. Through separate, small footprint rights-of-way, they provide a major capacity and mobility alternative to roads in crowded corridors and in urban areas. They use only one-third of the land for capacity equivalent to roads. In addition, one train can move one tonne of freight 180 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. In all, railways relieve congestion pressure on roads, provide environmentally attractive options, and improve transportation safety.

The rail industry is ready to move forward and is attuned to the Canadian environmental imperative. With its fuel and emissions efficiency, its small footprint and its ability to move on rights-of-way separate from congested highways, rail has a unique environmental effectiveness.

For the Canadian transportation system, the growth in GHG emissions is no longer sustainable. Canada must encourage and enable an effective and sustainable transportation system to serve the nation and its regions.

A system that enhances movement of freight and passengers, and continually strengthens Canada’s international competitiveness, is critical to our nation’s economic well-being.

In the face of growing international trade competition and declining economic growth, Canada must assure reliable, seamless capacity and “reach” for shippers nationally, in North American markets, and internationally. Any Canadian solution must recognize the need to better harmonize our transportation regulations and policies with those of the United States – to assure unhindered, fluid movement of our goods and our country’s future competitiveness.

While transportation as a whole is facing major challenges, rail has achieved tremendous improvements in fuel efficiency that have enhanced its environmental performance. For example, the 1995-2005 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Railway Association of Canada and Environment Canada demonstrated the great value of a voluntary, soundly- based agreement between industry and government. The MOU allowed the railways to manage their fleet and operations to meet their operational and customers’ needs while sharply reducing workload emissions.

This voluntary approach has proven to be very successful. In the period of the MOU, freight rail revenue tonne- kilometres increased by 22.5 per cent, but aggregate fuel consumption was hardly affected as railways met the challenge and brought into service new equipment and operating practices. Further, emissions from rail operations of smog-forming oxides of nitrogen have averaged below 115 kilotonnes, despite the unprecedented traffic growth over this time period. Passenger railways realized similar improvements in emissions reductions on a passenger-km basis. The current Environmental Performance Agreement between the railways, Environment Canada and Transport Canada for 2006-2010 built upon the success of the 1995- 2005 MOU. It recognizes more fuel-efficiency initiatives and also encourages partnerships among all railways to use research, development and assessments of other emissions- reduction strategies.

The program includes agreed perfor- mance objectives to reduce GHG and criteria air containments emissions, reporting accountability on locomo- tive emissions, consistent monitor- ing, a publicly available annual report, a progressive schedule of fleet mod- ernization, and targeted continuous improvement in workload emissions, recognizing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. It also requires the rail industry to develop and submit a GHG Reduction Action Plan to the federal government within six months of signing the MOU. The rail industry was the first industry in Canada to formally submit a GHG Reduction Action Plan to the federal government.

The benefits of such an agreement and process are:

• Targeted workload emissions, with annual reporting; is simple to administer.
• Timely implementation for government with no regulatory overhead.
• Voluntary/flexible options as a means to achieve reduced emissions.
• New initiatives and operating practices.
• A multi–year industry commitment to the desired environmental result.
• Multi–stakeholder research and development.

Canada’s rail industry has made a significant contribution to environ– mental sustainability in the past and it is well positioned to play an important role in the future. The sector is ready to work with governments, communities and other private sector partners to do its part in finding a sustainable future for Canadians. The industry’s members have proposed a number of initiatives which they believe will make a significant, cost- effective contribution. At the same time, the country’s railways will continue to assist Canadians with ongoing efforts to ensure the nation’s social and economic well-being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

• Transportation accounts for 18 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions — at 190,000 kilotonnes per year, one of the highest emissions levels for transport per capita in the world.
• 87 per cent of transportation GHG emissions are attributed to road transportation.
• Only 3 per cent of transportation GHG emissions are attributed to freight and passenger rail.
• If 20 per cent of current truck freight were shifted to rail, Canada would realize a reduction of 5.75 million tonnes, of GHG emissions annually.

Energy Efficiency

• Canada has some of the highest levels of road freight usage/intensity per capita in the world. It uses 23 billion litres of diesel fuel annually.

• Rail moves more freight on a tonne–km basis than road, yet uses only 1.76 billion litres of diesel annually.

 

 

Rail on the Rise

October 15, 2012 1:55 pm
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GETTING PRODUCTS TO TIDEWATER AS EFFICIENTLY AS POSSIBLE

Energy is a key market for Canadian Pacific (CP) and the increase in traffic has been particularly strong as a result of a targeted growth strategy. Energy-related traffic represented about 45 per cent of this portfolio’s revenue in 2011.

With an extensive rail network and proven expertise in moving energy, CP offers a competitive option for transporting energy-related products, including crude oil, to and from key locations in North America. CP’s successful market development activities have enabled it to successfully take advantage of access to the Bakken oil formation, the Marcellus gas formation and the Alberta oil sands cluster.

CP has a strong position for long-term participation in the energy play through the positioning of its network in the Canadian and U.S. Bakken regions (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota), the fracture-sand-producing areas in the U.S. Midwest, and through shortlines and transload facilities that extend its reach.

The Marcellus Shale lies under the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. The Marcellus is purported to be the largest natural gas reserve in the United States.

CP’s Northeast U.S. network, transload facilities and shortline partnerships enable it to participate in the movement of drilling and construction materials; primarily fracture sand, steel pipe and chemicals. The strength of CP’s network positions it to access key fracture sand production areas in the U.S. Midwest.

The Alberta Industrial Heartland (AIH) is one of the premier chemical and energy-related processing districts in North America and is known for its concentration of oil refineries and a major oil sands upgrading facility. The location is ideal for the development of future upgraders due to its proximity to the Alberta oil sands and offers growth opportunities for shipments into and out of the region by rail.

CP’s automotive business consists of three core finished vehicle traffic segments: import vehicles that move through Port Metro Vancouver to Eastern Canadian markets; Canadian-produced vehicles that ship to the U.S. from Ontario production facilities; and U.S.-produced vehicles that travel cross-border into Canadian markets. In all of these segments, CP’s business has been built on strategic alliances with major car manufacturers and designing services to meet supply chain needs.

CP’s automotive franchise is built around strong industry transplant production companies, such as Toyota and Honda, sometimes referenced as the New Domestics. CP’s relationship and business within this segment has grown steadily. Today, the New Domestic segment represents almost 40 per cent of automotive carloads.

CP’s intermodal portfolio involves the movement of freight through multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, truck) and includes domestic and international services.

Domestic intermodal primarily involves moving manufactured consumer products in containers within North America. As customers’ shipping requirements evolve and their supply chains become more complex, CP believes there will be a growing need for both door-to-door and more value-added services such as Canadian Pacific Logistics Solutions (CPLS) and co-location opportunities. (Co-location refers to customers constructing warehouses adjacent to CP intermodal facilities.)
International intermodal services are the movement of marine containers to and from the ports of Vancouver, Montreal, New York and Philadelphia and into inland ports across Canada and the U.S.

CP has been able to leverage growth through its expanded Western Corridor and strong network of 14 modern intermodal terminals in Canada and the U.S.

CP’s strategy is to be proactive in ensuring infrastructure capacity and to that end, the railway has acquired land for future terminal expansions in Edmonton, Montreal and Regina.
CP also has a long-train strategy to drive increased train lengths and improve service. Long trains with distributed power configurations reduce lateral forces, enhance locomotive productivity and create safer operations. The long-train strategy includes targeted infrastructure enhancements and the use of proprietary train marshaling software, which maximizes the use of distributed locomotive power.

Railway investments and innovative improvements, which in the rail business means depending on a stable regulatory environment, have created an efficient and reliable asset for Canadian exporters. “Hopefully, these improvements can continue” said Bruce Burrows, RAC’s vice-president of Public and Corporate Affairs. “As more resources become accessible in Canada, modern rail will be an essential component providing access to national and international markets”.

The Harper government is further strengthening Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway advantages
In February 2012, the Government of Canada announced a $15-million contribution to the Ridley Island Road, Rail and Utility Corridor (RRUC) project at the Port of Prince Rupert, B.C. Together with contributions from the Government of British Columbia, CN Rail and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, this $90-million project will expand capacity and operations at the Port of Prince Rupert, a vital part of the world-class transportation network that makes up Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway.

“Investments in projects such as the RRUC are strengthening Canada’s competitive advantages and further positioning Canada as the gateway of choice for global supply chains between Asia and North America,” said Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. “As a result of these strategic investments and partnerships, Canadian exports to the Asia-Pacific region have reached record levels.”

The RRUC project is a joint public- and private-sector investment that will provide road and rail access, along with utility services, to 1,000 acres of multi-user heavy industrial land that is accessible through the deep-sea terminals at the Port of Prince Rupert. The project features the development of a common user rail corridor, roads and access to port property. Investments at the Port of Prince Rupert will support Canada’s international trade with Asia.

“Building capacity at the Port of Prince Rupert is necessary for the expansion of Canada’s trade with fast-growing Asian economies,” said Don Krusel, president and chief executive officer of the Prince Rupert Port Authority. “This investment unlocks the sustainable development of port infrastructure and industrial waterfront that will benefit industries across Canada.” Canada’s West Coast ports are more than two days closer to high-growth Asian markets than any other ports in North America.

Since 2006, the Government of Canada has partnered with all four western provinces, municipalities and the private sector to announce Asia-Pacific Gateway infrastructure projects worth more than $3.5 billion, including federal contributions of over $1.4 billion.

The Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway
The Continental Gateway is a key component of Canada’s multimodal transportation system. The central location of the Continental Gateway facilitates international trade through the Port of Montreal and the domestic inputs towards foreign trade with the United States and other key trading partners. The Continental Gateway includes strategic ports, airports, intermodal facilities and border crossings as well as essential road, rail and marine infrastructure that ensures this transportation system’s connection to, and seamless integration with, Canada’s other gateways: Asia-Pacific and Atlantic.

On July 30, 2007, the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the development of an Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor.

This event followed the 2006 Cooperation Protocol signed by Ontario and Quebec to promote the development of the Ontario-Quebec Trade Corridor and to improve its efficiency in all modes, while the federal government was developing its National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors.

The goal of the federal-provincial partnership is to maintain and build upon Ontario and Quebec’s world-class transportation system so that it remains a key driver of international trade and economic growth for the future.

The Continental Gateway initiative is focused on developing a sustainable, secure and efficient multimodal transportation system that keeps Canada’s economic heartland competitive, attractive for investment and essential for trade.

The Atlantic Gateway: A public-private collaboration ensuring seamless service worldwide
Canada’s Atlantic Gateway’s strategic location connects North America with global markets. An integral part of Canada’s national system of corridors and gateways, the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor is an efficient, reliable and secure transportation network developed through the collaboration of the Government of Canada, the four Atlantic provinces and the private sector. It is at least one day closer to Europe than any other port on the eastern seaboard, and within a three-day drive to more than half the population of North America. With capacity in all modes and specialized niche services, it provides seamless integration with road, rail and air transportation systems that connect to all markets in North America.

The Atlantic Gateway is a safe, secure and sustainable multimodal system of specialized assets and niche capabilities; a strategically located and globally competitive transportation network moving goods to and from North America; an integrated, reliable and efficient system of airports, border crossings, rail connections, roads, and ports connecting to a continental market of 450 million consumers.

Service gains made by Canada’s railways in recent years have benefitted all participants in the process of getting goods to market by permitting the transportation of more products, more efficiently, more safely and at a cost levels that are among the lowest in the world.

Rail on the Rise: Getting Products to Tidewater as Efficiently as Possible

July 16, 2012 9:00 am
July12_page27_Courtesy RAC

Canadian rail continues to extend and expand its network to encompass the entire world. “Our railways have worked diligently with customers to improve service,” said Michael Bourque, president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada (RAC). “They have signed service level agreements with many shippers and collaboration agreements with supply chain partners including the major ports and terminals”.

2011 was a year full of excellent progress for CN and CP (Canada’s two Class I rail carriers) and most of Canada’s 40 short line operators.

CN’s broad-based service innovation allowed it to grow the business faster than the overall economy, which translated into record annual carloadings, revenues and earnings. For the year ended December 31, 2011, CN’s rail freight revenues reached $8.1 billion, up 9.4% from $7.4 billion in 2010. Carloads were up by 3.8% in 2011 at 4.9 million, compared to 2010’s 4.7 million, while route miles (including Canada and the U.S.) decreased by 3% – from 20,600 in 2010 to 20,000 in 2011.

CN’s role as a transportation backbone of the economy makes it indispensable to many of the most important industries in North America.

CN’s role as a transportation backbone of the economy makes it indispensable to many of the most important industries in North America, transporting goods throughout the continent. CN’s sustainability practices have earned it a place on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) North America for a third straight year – the only railroad to have achieved this distinction.

CN’s Precision Railroading model, which focuses on improving every process, which affects delivery of the customers’ goods, continues to guide the railway’s performance. In 2011, CN strengthened its commitment to Operational and Service Excellence through a wide range of innovations anchored on its continuous improvement philosophy.

While CN is a leader in fast and reliable service hub-to-hub, the railway brings greater value to the entire range of interactions with its customers. CN’s “first mile/last mile” efforts include developing a sharper outside­in perspective to better monitor traffic forecasts; from moving its car-management distribution activities forward to higher and more responsive car order fulfillment. (An outside-in perspective means that companies aim to creatively deliver something of value to customers, rather than focus simply on products and sales).

CN’s relentless focus on execution supports all of its activities. The railway’s investments in capacity contribute to enhancing the fluidity of its network. “We work hard to run more efficient trains, reduce dwell time at our terminals, and improve overall network velocity,” says Claude Mongeau, CN’s president and CEO.

Improving the efficiency of the entire supply chain

The greatest opportunity to take railroading to the next level is to improve the efficiency of the entire supply chain. CN sets its sights on becoming a true supply-chain enabler, a player that can be a key part of the solution, that can help elevate logistics performance end-to-end. CN is well-positioned to use collaboration as a driver of accountability.

“We are at the forefront of groundbreaking supply chain and service level agreements throughout our North American network,” Mongeau said. “Such agreements are not based on templates or a one ­size ­fits ­all approach. Each is unique and custom-­made to reflect mutually-agreed-upon goals in a complex network business, including car supply, dwell time, and loading requirements. Customers are starting to see significant value in this collaborative framework and the positive results will continue to gain momentum.

“We are driving supply chain improvements across all segments of the business. In bulk, be it in grain, potash or coal, we are pursuing greater operating efficiencies and helping our customers find their place in global markets. In Manufacturing, be it in forest products, metals or petroleum and chemicals, we are focused on better car order fulfillment to gain market share one carload at a time. In Intermodal, we are taking advantage of supply chain agreements with every major port and terminal operator in Canada to open up new gateway markets.”

Helping coal customers serve global markets

In 2011, CN moved more than 20 million tons of coal and petroleum coke destined for offshore markets. As capacity limits in West Coast coal export terminals were constraining coal producers, CN took action – instead of waiting for capacity to expand.

Building on CN’s innovative end­to­end supply chain agreements, the railway developed an exclusive information system to better manage the flow of coal “from the mine to the ship.”

Working with customers and coal terminal operators, CN made the most of the supply chain by modifying scheduling for ships and trains, and making other changes to improve productivity and fluidity.

As a result, CN moved more than a million tons of additional coal in 2011 that may never have made it to market, a substantial contribution to help its customers grow their business.

The Port of Montreal

Gains for Grain

CN’s Scheduled Grain Service, introduced in 2010, contributed to the railway’s success in moving more than 125,000 grain cars to export terminals in Vancouver and Prince Rupert during the 2010­2011 crop year ended on July 31 – the most in 20 years. During the fall of 2011, when the crop was really starting to move, CN handled record weekly volumes of grain and achieved high levels of car-spotting reliability. Under what is a much more disciplined approach to grain service, fully 95% of grain traffic is now scheduled.

Having a pre­established day of the week for service allows customers to plan more accurately for their own business activities. It also facilitates communication. Transit times, cycles and reliability have improved as well, increasing empty­car flow and fleet capacity for grain customers. The plan allows CN to smooth the network traffic over seven days instead of the five-­day period used in the past. CN’s new grain plan is intended to help improve the supply chain for exporting grain to world markets while tightly managing costs and network balance.

As for CN’s main competitor, for the year ended December 31, 2011, CP’s rail freight revenues reached $5.2 billion, up 3.9% from almost $5 billion in 2010. Operating income was $967 million in 2011, a decrease of $149 million, or 13%, from $1.1 billion in 2010.

This decrease was primarily due to significant disruptions to train operations across the network in the first half of the year due to unusually severe winter weather and subsequent flooding; the net unfavourable impact of higher fuel costs; increased IT costs and higher crew training expenses to meet business demand and attrition.

Canadian Pacific’s current strategy is built on five core beliefs: service, safety, productivity and efficiency, people and growth. However, Hunter Harrison, CP’s newly-appointed president and CEO, will lead a multi-phase process over the next four years to deliver further improvements to CP’s performance.

As a part of its bulk portfolio, CP plays a critical role in the movement of agricultural products from key producing regions in Canada and the U.S. to markets throughout the world. The core of CP’s grain business is the movement of whole grains like wheat, canola, corn, soybeans, specialty crops and product from grain processors.

CP’s new Scheduled Grain Program has established a Transportation Hub System that delivers dedicated day-of-week service. This means better reliability, maximizing grain elevators’ capacity, improving car velocity, improving on-time performance, and creating capacity for growth.

CP serves the metallurgical coal market – used primarily in steel manufacturing – and the thermal coal market used for power generation. Within its bulk coal franchise, CP’s metallurgical business is almost entirely generated from Teck Resources’ five mines in the Elk Valley region of southeastern British Columbia.

Most of this coal volume is moved to Port Metro Vancouver for export. In 2010, CP announced a 10-year agreement with Teck that provides for a collaborative approach to the coal supply chain and investments by CP that will increase coal-handling capacity and productivity through long trains to support Teck’s volume growth.

CP continues to invest in building a truly world-class coal transportation model. Its service is based on highly efficient unit trains in continuous motion through the mine-to-port transportation cycle.

As part of CP’s merchandise portfolio, the forest product sector consists of the movement of lumber, panel, and pulp-and-paper products.

The pulp-and-paper products originate from CP-served mills in B.C., Ontario and Quebec. Mills in the interior of B.C. ship two-thirds of their production to Asia through Port Metro Vancouver and the balance moves to various North American markets. In recent years, B.C. mills have made capital investments and when the economy recovers, are positioned for long-term success.

CP’s lumber movements represent 26% of CP’s forest products business and move primarily from western-based reload facilities to markets across North America.

CP’s industrial and consumer products business encompasses a wide array of commodities grouped under energy, chemicals and plastics, mines, metals and aggregates. CP’s industrial and consumer products traffic is dispersed widely across the Canadian and U.S. network.

Energy is a key market for CP and the increase in traffic has been particularly strong as a result of a targeted growth strategy. Energy-related traffic represented about 45% of this portfolio’s revenue in 2011.

With an extensive rail network and proven expertise in moving energy, CP offers a competitive option for transporting energy-related products, including crude oil, to and from key locations in North America. CP’s successful market development activities have enabled it to successfully take advantage of access to the Bakken oil formation, the Marcellus gas formation and the Alberta oil sands cluster.

CP has a strong position for long-term participation in the energy play through the positioning of its network in the Canadian and U.S. Bakken regions (Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota), the fracture-sand-producing areas in the U.S. Midwest, and through shortlines and transload facilities that extend its reach.

The Marcellus Shale lies under the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and New York. The Marcellus is purported to be the largest natural gas reserve in the United States.

CP’s Northeast U.S. network, transload facilities and shortline partnerships enable it to participate in the movement of drilling and construction materials; primarily fracture sand, steel pipe and chemicals. The strength of CP’s network positions it to access key fracture sand production areas in the U.S. Midwest.

Domestic intermodal primarily involves moving manufactured consumer products in containers within North America.

The Alberta Industrial Heartland (AIH) is one of the premier chemical and energy-related processing districts in North America and is known for its concentration of oil refineries and a major oil sands upgrading facility. The location is ideal for the development of future upgraders due to its proximity to the Alberta oil sands and offers growth opportunities for shipments into and out of the region by rail.

CP’s automotive business consists of three core finished vehicle traffic segments: import vehicles that move through Port Metro Vancouver to Eastern Canadian markets; Canadian-produced vehicles that ship to the U.S. from Ontario production facilities; and U.S.-produced vehicles that travel cross-border into Canadian markets. In all of these segments, CP’s business has been built on strategic alliances with major car manufacturers and designing services to meet supply chain needs.

CP’s automotive franchise is built around strong industry transplant production companies, such as Toyota and Honda, sometimes referenced as the New Domestics. CP’s relationship and business within this segment has grown steadily. Today, the New Domestic segment represents almost 40% of automotive carloads.

CP’s intermodal portfolio involves the movement of freight through multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, truck) and includes domestic and international services.

Domestic intermodal primarily involves moving manufactured consumer products in containers within North America. As customers’ shipping requirements evolve and their supply chains become more complex, CP believes there will be a growing need for both door-to-door and more value-added services such as Canadian Pacific Logistics Solutions (CPLS) and co-location opportunities. (Co-location refers to customers constructing warehouses adjacent to CP intermodal facilities.)

International intermodal services are the movement of marine containers to and from the ports of Vancouver, Montreal, New York and Philadelphia and into inland ports across Canada and the U.S.

CP has been able to leverage growth through its expanded Western Corridor and strong network of 14 modern intermodal terminals in Canada and the U.S.

CP’s strategy is to be proactive in ensuring infrastructure capacity and to that end, the railway has acquired land for future terminal expansions in Edmonton, Montreal and Regina.

CP also has a long-train strategy to drive increased train lengths and improve service. Long trains with Distributed Power configurations reduce lateral forces, enhance locomotive productivity and create safer operations. The long-train strategy includes targeted infrastructure enhancements and the use of proprietary train marshaling software, which maximizes the use of distributed locomotive power.

Railway investments and innovative improvements, which in the rail business means depending on a stable regulatory environment, have created an efficient and reliable asset for Canadian exporters.

Railway investments and innovative improvements, which in the rail business means depending on a stable regulatory environment, have created an efficient and reliable asset for Canadian exporters. “Hopefully, these improvements can continue” said Bruce Burrows, RAC’s vice-president of Public and Corporate Affairs.  “As more resources become accessible in Canada, modern rail will be an essential component providing access to national and international markets”.

The Harper government is further strengthening Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway advantages

In February 2012, the Government of Canada announced a $15-million contribution to the Ridley Island Road, Rail and Utility Corridor (RRUC) project at the Port of Prince Rupert, B.C. Together with contributions from the Government of British Columbia, CN Rail and the Prince Rupert Port Authority, this $90-million project will expand capacity and operations at the Port of Prince Rupert, a vital part of the world-class transportation network that makes up Canada’s Asia-Pacific Gateway.

“Investments in projects such as the RRUC are strengthening Canada’s competitive advantages and further positioning Canada as the gateway of choice for global supply chains between Asia and North America,” said Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. “As a result of these strategic investments and partnerships, Canadian exports to the Asia-Pacific region have reached record levels.”

The RRUC project is a joint public- and private-sector investment that will provide road and rail access, along with utility services, to 1,000 acres of multi-user heavy industrial land that is accessible through the deep-sea terminals at the Port of Prince Rupert. The project features the development of a common user rail corridor, roads and access to port property. Investments at the Port of Prince Rupert will support Canada’s international trade with Asia.

“Building capacity at the Port of Prince Rupert is necessary for the expansion of Canada’s trade with fast-growing Asian economies,” said Don Krusel, president and chief executive officer of the Prince Rupert Port Authority. “This investment unlocks the sustainable development of port infrastructure and industrial waterfront that will benefit industries across Canada.” Canada’s West Coast ports are more than two days closer to high-growth Asian markets than any other ports in North America.

Since 2006, the Government of Canada has partnered with all four western provinces, municipalities and the private sector to announce Asia-Pacific Gateway infrastructure projects worth more than $3.5 billion, including federal contributions of over $1.4 billion.

The Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway

The Continental Gateway is a key component of Canada’s multimodal transportation system. The central location of the Continental Gateway facilitates international trade through the Port of Montreal and the domestic inputs towards foreign trade with the United States and other key trading partners. The Continental Gateway includes strategic ports, airports, intermodal facilities and border crossings as well as essential road, rail and marine infrastructure that ensures this transportation system’s connection to, and seamless integration with, Canada’s other gateways: Asia-Pacific and Atlantic.

On July 30, 2007, the governments of Canada, Ontario and Quebec signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the development of an Ontario-Quebec Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor.

This event followed the 2006 Cooperation Protocol signed by Ontario and Quebec to promote the development of the Ontario-Quebec Trade Corridor and to improve its efficiency in all modes, while the federal government was developing its National Policy Framework for Strategic Gateways and Trade Corridors.

The goal of the federal-provincial partnership is to maintain and build upon Ontario and Quebec’s world-class transportation system so that it remains a key driver of international trade and economic growth for the future.

The Continental Gateway initiative is focused on developing a sustainable, secure and efficient multimodal transportation system that keeps Canada’s economic heartland competitive, attractive for investment and essential for trade.

 The Atlantic Gateway: A public-private collaboration ensuring seamless service worldwide

Canada’s Atlantic Gateway’s strategic location connects North America with global markets. An integral part of Canada’s national system of corridors and gateways, the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor is an efficient, reliable and secure transportation network developed through the collaboration of the Government of Canada, the four Atlantic provinces and the private sector. It is at least one day closer to Europe than any other port on the eastern seaboard, and within a three-day drive to more than half the population of North America. With capacity in all modes and specialized niche services, it provides seamless integration with road, rail and air transportation systems that connect to all markets in North America.

The Atlantic Gateway is a safe, secure and sustainable multimodal system of specialized assets and niche capabilities; a strategically located and globally competitive transportation network moving goods to and from North America; an integrated, reliable and efficient system of airports, border crossings, rail connections, roads, and ports connecting to a continental market of 450 million consumers.

Service gains made by Canada’s railways in recent years have benefitted all participants in the process of getting goods to market by permitting the transportation of more products, more efficiently, more safely and at a cost levels that are among the lowest in the world.

Railway Series: Interview with Michael Bourque

May 17, 2012 8:39 am
Pg47_MICHAEL BOURQUE_courtesyRAC

Ottawa Life interviewed Michael Bourquethe new President & Chief Executive Officer of the Railway Association of Canada. Here is what he had to share.

Why is this a very exciting time for Canada’s rail sector?

Michael Bourque: Well, it’s clear that we’re going to continue producing a lot of goods in this country from our vast natural resources… we’re going to keep manufacturing products. Even through the recession, in the last several challenging years of the rising dollar, increasing manufacturing competition from other countries and high energy costs, we still have a great many manufacturers in this country who are globally competitive. We have vast resources: we’re exporting bitumen, potash, mining products, forest products… and the list goes on. And we’re going to keep doing that. Examples like Quebec’s Plan Nord (the Northern Plan) demonstrate that we’ll be opening up new production, creating new communities, and putting in railways so companies can ship their product to market in a competitive manner. So there’s a renaissance going on, based on the fact that the country and the economy are continuing to grow and we’re continuing to export. You can couple that with the fact that the government and the Prime Minister are signing trade agreements with many new countries and markets. The vulnerability that companies felt from the downturn in the U.S. has really caused Canadian companies to focus their exports on new customers around the world. This means that we have to be able to provide a service that will allow them to get their products to market in a very competitive way… and that’s what is happening.

So are trucks taking a back seat, so to speak, to rail?

Michael Bourque: I can’t really speak for trucking, but you will probably find that they are also struggling to keep up with demand in many cases. I’ve read that they have pretty significant driver shortages. That’s because they are busy and they are part of the supply infrastructure that allows Canadian producers to get goods to market. Trucking still plays a very important role in delivering goods. The difference between trucking and rail is that we obviously have much more capacity, and probably the most important aspect is on the sustainability side where rail pretty much moves more than 70 per cent of everything in this country for about 3 per cent of the emissions. So the sustainability story is significant. We’re able to move very large quantities of products for a lower price than trucking, while using less infrastructure that is paid for by the public, because the rail system is a privately owned, managed and operated, paid-for and even policed operation. It doesn’t require government funding to keep the rail lines open.

 What are the rail sector’s human resources challenges?

Michael Bourque: We’re going to be hiring 12 to 15 thousand people in the next four to five years, based on two trends: demographics where a number of people will be retiring from the industry, and growth in the industry. We currently have a number of programs to train new conductors, train new workers into the business and we’re working on building awareness around the rail sector as an exciting, future-oriented employer. The salaries are excellent with an average of about $80,000 a year. There are jobs from coast-to-coast and into new communities in the north. A locomotive today is far more technologically advanced than it used to be, so the training required for these positions is obviously more technologically-oriented nowadays.

What are some of the infrastructure challenges facing rail? 

Photo courtesy of RAC

Trains today are actually higher. We’re talking about intermodal, so a lot of these trains carry containers that are stacked higher and this causes demand for infrastructure changes. For example, there’s a project in Windsor-Detroit to build a new tunnel to replace one that’s about 100 years old, with a bigger and deeper tunnel that needs to accommodate these trains that are significantly higher. Again, this is just another way of taking advantage of what’s already there, making better use of existing railways. There’s a lot going on in terms of car changing, double-stacking cars.

The most significant challenge for the future is how we make sure that our infrastructure – not just for rail but for the whole supply chain – is up to the task that we’re going to require. If we’re developing new resources from mines, whether it’s in the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario or in northern Quebec or in northern Canada where there are many mining operations, or if you look at shale gas and shale oil developments, you look at the amount of demand that there is globally for potash, for specialty crops like pulse crops (a group of more than 60 different grain legume crops grown around the world – Ed.), the fact is that there is much more demand on the supply chain and this means that rail has to work really effectively with ports and terminals and trucking and shipping. Whenever you talk about the integration of these modes, you’re also talking about passenger rail, because freight trains go through cities and you want to be able to make sure that your freight trains move freely through urban areas without being held up and without holding up passengers who are shunted off the main line until the freight train passes by. The biggest challenge will be infrastructure. How do we continue to build it? How do we collaborate with all of these different actors to make sure we build the most advanced, integrated supply chain infrastructure in the world so our customers can remain globally competitive? That’s really what it’s all about. How do we work to ensure that our customers can remain globally competitive? Because if they’re not, we don’t have customers and we’re not in business.

Some years ago, the Port of Vancouver and the whole gateway there was identified as a bottleneck and everybody worked together to eliminate that bottleneck. Traffic flow was improved, so the Vancouver experience showed that this could be done, but it has to be done in a collaborative fashion because, unlike the old days when governments would finance these expansions or upgrades, governments today don’t have the money to finance large infrastructure projects. Now what is required is a commercial basis for building and collaborating to create the infrastructure that is needed for all of the different parts to work together. I think what we’re seeing is a move toward more private-sector financing and public-private partnerships. We’re a private-sector enterprise. We’re not government-owned anymore. Government doesn’t pay for the track. We own all the track. We provide leasing on the track. We upgrade the track with a significant amount of capital investment every year. We even pay taxes on our rights-of-way, so we paying for our whole infrastructure. Therefore, we look at this as a business enterprise and the only way the advanced, integrated supply chain infrastructure can be built is through collaboration and commercial agreements with private-sector financing. And of course government will be at the table as one of the stakeholders, but it will increasingly become a commercial enterprise because governments simply don’t have the capital to invest in these projects.

How did Canada achieve the impressive feat of having one of the safest and most productive railways in the world?

Michael Bourque: It really comes down to innovation in the way that we work with customers, creating longer, higher, quicker cars. Safety inspections are done while freight trains are moving at a very slow pace. You can’t afford to have somebody walking around these very long freight trains; instead, the inspector monitors the train while it’s moving. The advantage is that the inspector will hear things and notice things that he wouldn’t necessarily detect if the train was at a standstill. And yet the net result is that the train is still moving and you’re increasing your efficiency. It’s really a story of innovation and persistence. I like to think that in this country, because of the seasonal and geographical challenges we face, that essentially it forces us to be smarter than everybody else!

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