Safety a priority at CN

Dear Editor,

Re: “Rail Safety town hall underscores urgency of action required,” The Interior News, June 10, 2021.

A recent article by Deb Meissner contained some statements that must be clarified with factual information. Foremost, safety is a core value at CN. Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees, customers, communities, and the environment. CN continues to invest in safety training, culture and systems, advanced technologies, and our rail network. In 2021, CN plans to invest approximately $460 million in British Columbia, including maintenance programs and the deployment of safety-enhancing technologies, such as autonomous track inspection railcars and distributed air cars.

To address the specifics of the article:

DOT111 tank cars have never been authorized to carry pressurized gasses such as propane. DOT111s are designed and authorized by federal regulation to carry non-pressurized liquids like corn oil and lubricating oil.


CN does not own the tank cars we transport; we do not select which commodity goes into which tank car, nor do we fill them. These are responsibilities of the commodity’s shipper. The type of tank car authorized for each commodity is set by federal regulators, not by railways. CN is legally required to move dangerous goods, which are products essential to the Canadian economy and involved in the production of many everyday goods.

The phase-out of the DOT111s is also set by federal regulation, not by railways. The requirement for DOT117 tank cars applies only to Class 3 flammable liquids. Other hazard classes are still authorized by federal regulation to be transported in DOT111s, although many shippers are moving away from them.

CN provides reports on the dangerous goods we transport to the Emergency Planning Official (EPO) of the municipalities registered to receive them with Transport Canada. The reports contain the type and quantity of dangerous goods that CN transported through the municipality in the previous quarter. There are currently 25 EPOs receiving reports for 19 municipalities in Northern BC. CN also issues annual dangerous goods reports by province. The 2020 report for BC (DG-PD36-British-Columbia-EN.pdf) shows that dangerous goods account for five per cent of the total shipments in this province.

CN is a member of both TransCAER ─ Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response – and Responsible Care, an ongoing performance improvement initiative established by the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) and American Chemistry Council (ACC). In 2020, CN earned the prestigious TransCAER National Achievement Award for the 11th consecutive year.

CN conducts training events each year for thousands of emergency response personnel in communities situated near rail lines where dangerous goods are transported. In recent years, such training has taken place in Terrace, Smithers, Telkwa, Prince Rupert, Prince Edward, and Fort St. John. CN has also engaged with the First Nations of Bulkey-Nechako and Kitsumkalum. In 2021, CN and our partners plan to hold live training events for first responders from Terrace, Thornhill, New Hazelton, Port Edward, Kitimat, Prince George, Fraser-Fort George, Prince Rupert, Burns Lake, and Bulkley-Nechako, among others.

Always championing technologies that can improve safety, CN has adopted the AskRail app; a tool that provides first responders immediate access to accurate, timely data about what type of hazardous material a railcar is carrying so they can make an informed decision about how to respond to a rail emergency. More than 20 municipalities in Northern BC have downloaded the AskRail app.

Derailments are extremely dangerous and expensive, and we do everything in our power to prevent them. On the rare occasions when they do occur, which can be a result of a natural disaster (e.g., a landslide following heavy rain), CN’s specially trained emergency response teams, including a Dangerous Goods Officer based out of Prince George, are equipped with tools and resources to provide 24/7 emergency response and hazmat expertise to our employees and local responders. Our priority is always the protection of neighbouring communities and the environment. Only then do we turn our attention to reopening the rail line so essential goods can be transported to power the economy. The third step is the removal of any non-hazardous material to restore the ecosystem to its original state.

We continue to examine the key routes on our network to assess risk and determine what technologies and processes could be used to mitigate the risk. Several factors are considered, including the proximity of communities along the rights-of-way, environmentally sensitive areas and the volume of dangerous goods transported. CN reaches out to municipalities along these key routes and incorporates public input as part of our risk assessments.

Finally, CN publishes a webpage dedicated to answering questions from municipalities regarding the transport of dangerous goods: www.cn.ca/en/safety/municipalities.

I hope the information CN has provided here reassures you about our commitment to safety. Should any doubts persist, or should you wish to discuss any other matter pertaining to our operations, please do not hesitate to contact our Public Inquiry Line at 1-888-888-5909 or at contact@cn.ca.


Rob Reilly

CN Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer


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