New rail speed limits to be based on temperatures

Railways wanting to run under new limits must develop winter operation plans

Given the odds of weird temperature swings happening somewhere in Canada at any time of year, railways will now instead be required to slow their trains’ speeds based on how cold it is outside at the time, rather than a date range.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau on Friday announced a new ministerial order meant to further improve safety in winter transport of dangerous goods by rail, in the wake of “a number of derailments of trains transporting dangerous goods during periods of colder ambient temperature in 2019 and 2020.”

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The new order replaces ministerial orders made in February and April effective immediately, and “restricts train speeds based on cold temperature conditions, instead of restricting train speed based on a winter date range” — as long as a railway’s winter operations plan is set up according to the order’s specifications.

Garneau’s new order “takes into account that different regions of the country can experience very different temperature ranges on any given day.”

It also considers the odds of “abnormal temperature fluctuations” happening outside the Nov. 15-to-March 15 period in which the previous speed limit order was to be in effect.

For the purposes of the order, “key trains” are trains that include either one or more loaded tank cars of dangerous goods that are toxic by inhalation, or 20 or more tank cars of dangerous goods.

“Higher-risk” key trains, meanwhile, are those carrying crude oil or liquefied petroleum gases in a continuous block of 20 or more tank cars, or in 35 or more tank cars dispersed through a train.

Under the new rule, key trains are to be limited to 50 miles an hour generally, and to 35 m.p.h. while within “census metropolitan areas” — that is, areas Statistics Canada defines as “core” (at least 50,000 people) or “secondary core” (at least 10,000).

While operating in “signaled territory,” higher-risk key trains will be limited to 50 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 30 m.p.h. within metro areas when the temperature is warmer than -25 C. When the temperature drops to or below that level, those trains will be limited to 25 m.p.h. in metro areas.

In “non-signaled” territory, higher-risk key trains will be limited to 50 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 30 m.p.h. within metro areas when the temperature is warmer than -15 C, but will be limited to 30 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 25 m.p.h. within metro areas when it’s -15 C or colder.

However, in non-signaled areas where a railway has rail break detection technology in place, higher-risk key trains will be able to operate at up to 40 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 25 m.p.h. within metro areas at temperatures of -15 C or colder.

Winter plans required

To operate under those rules, however, railway companies will be required to develop and submit winter operations plans “specific to each subdivision where higher-risk key trains operate.”

Garneau’s new order also lays out “additional key elements” in winter operations plans that “must be satisfied in order to achieve a greater standard of safety during cold weather conditions,” such as:

  • improved track inspection and track maintenance;
  • further speed restrictions if warranted due to inspection results;
  • measures to reduce risk in cases of “rapid temperature fluctuation;”
  • the use of new technology to detect a rail break; and
  • approval of the plan by a professional engineer.

Companies that don’t develop such plans will instead be required to stick to the “date-based approach” to reducing speeds during the Nov. 15-to-March 15 period, which is also laid out again in the new ministerial order.

Outside that period, higher-risk key trains running on lines without a winter operations plan will be kept to 50 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 30 m.p.h. within metro areas.

During the Nov. 15-to-March 15 period, those higher-risk key trains in signaled territory will be kept to 40 m.p.h. outside metro areas and 25 m.p.h. within metro areas. When it’s -25 C or colder during that period, higher-risk key trains in signaled territory will be kept to 30 m.p.h. outside metro areas.

Outside signaled territory, meanwhile, during the Nov. 15-to-March 15 period, railways running without a winter operations plan will have to limit higher-risk key trains to 25 m.p.h., both within and outside metro areas. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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Editor, Daily News

Dave Bedard

Editor, Daily News, Glacier FarmMedia Network. A Saskatchewan transplant in Winnipeg.

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