By David F. Rooney
There’s tremendous irony in the fact that the railway stands accused of leaving 57 cars on a stretch of track above Revelstoke without set hand brakes just two months after a CP official told Council no one should have been alarmed by the April 2 derailment in the city’s downtown.
That’s just an accusation. It hasn’t been proven in court. But the information used to secure a search warrant for a police raid on CP Rail’s headquarters in Calgary last month is pretty detailed and, at face value, possibly damning. All of the allegations in the information have yet to be proven in court.
The story, broken on Monday, June 22, by CBC reporter Dave Seglins, said the crew of Train 401 parked their “57 loaded rail cars, some carrying dangerous goods, unattended in the dark on a mountain slope above Revelstoke… without applying hand brakes — in breach of emergency directives made after the Lac-Mégantic disaster.”
The actual location was at Greeley and this incident occurred on February 14-15 — just before the national strike by CP Rail workers. There have been two derailments inside Revelstoke city limits during the last year. There was a derailment in the Big Eddy last summer and the one downtown in April.
The corporation publicly claims it is the safest railway in North America and while long-time CPR employees privately pooh-pooh that claim, it is one that many people have tended to believe — at least until now.
Canadian Pacific’s initial reaction to Seglins’ story was muted. Martin Cej, its assistant vice-president of public affairs and communications, refused to tell Seglins what, if any, dangerous goods were involved.
“We have co-operated fully with the investigation and will continue to co-operate fully with Transport Canada,” he said in an e-mail to the CBC. “As this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further comment.”
That position changed on Tuesday afternoon when CP issued the following statement:
“Canadian Pacific (CP) is profoundly disappointed with the Minister of Transport’s comments regarding an ongoing investigation into an alleged breach in safety rules. (Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was reported as saying that “if CP Rail did not adhere to our emergency directive, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”) Such comments undermine the reputations of hardworking employees who take pride in their commitment to the safe movement of goods through communities across North America.
“CP is cooperating fully with Transport Canada in this investigation and will continue to do so. No charges have been laid against CP nor have any allegations been proven.
“‘We are concerned about accusations and threats made in the media by the Minister of Transport during an ongoing investigation where the facts have not yet been established,’ said E. Hunter Harrison, Chief Executive Officer. “‘Furthermore, to suggest that there is any parallel between these allegations and the tragedy of Lac-Megantic is, at best, unfortunate.’”
“CP has cultivated a strong safety culture among its employees, a commitment that has made CP the North American leader in train accident prevention for nine straight years. In 2014, CP reported the best accident prevention rate ever achieved by a North American Class I railroad, something all Canadians can take pride in.
“CP has also been among the earliest and most vocal advocates for tougher tank-car standards and has considered the Minister an ally in lobbying for speedier implementation and harmonization of standards between Canada and the U.S. CP is also working hard to employ inward-facing locomotive video recorders as a proactive measure to prevent accidents. The government has allowed political sympathies to hobble this effort, but we encourage the Minister to join CP in supporting this important safety initiative.
“‘Any insinuation that CP doesn’t take safety seriously or would tolerate a culture that allows employees to cut corners or break rules is deeply disturbing and inappropriate,’ Harrison said. ‘If we make a mistake, we take responsibility and take action to ensure it never happens again.’
Certainly everyone on Revelstoke City Council remembered that on April 15, the railway’s director of governmental affairs, Mike Lovecchi spoke to them and outlined reasons he said no one in Revelstoke should be alarmed as a result of the April 2 two-car derailment downtown, even though the volume of dangerous goods, which the CPR must by law transport, is increasing on its main line.
Mayor Mark McKee took some time off his vacation to make this comment on Tuesday:
“Our community has concerns regarding the allegations, but look forward to the findings of the investigation. I know Revelstoke CP employees are good, conscientious employees. They are as much or more concerned about the safety and well being of our community as I am. I find it hard to believe that anyone would purposely put the community in danger. I know that CP, their employees and the city of Revelstoke take rail safety extremely seriously.”
Fire Chief Rob Girard characterized the allegations, if true, as alarming.
“It came as a shock,” he said of his reaction when Seglins told him about the story he was working on. “I don’t understand — if this is fact — why this kind of mistake would be made after Lac Megantic.”
Girard said he and band of professional and volunteer firefighters have the equipment and training they would need if they were ever faced with a derailment that included toxic chemicals or fuels, a major fire or even explosions. In the event of a truly major derailment that threatened Revelstoke the population would be evacuated and our local firefighters could be backstopped by fire rescue services from Sicamous, Salmon Arm and Golden.
“We are all waiting to hear the outcome of this (inquiry into the alleged incident) and what might change — if anything — as a result of this,” Girard said.