Canada safety watchdog says action needed on train crew fatigue

MONTREAL (Reuters) — Too many Canadian train crews, particularly on freight lines, are not getting sufficient rest and railroads need to do more to apply fatigue science to scheduling, the country's transport safety watchdog said on Monday.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, an independent government agency, singled out rail fatigue in its 2016 watch list, which identifies key safety issues in Canadian transportation.

TSB chair Kathy Fox said by telephone the board would meet with industry and government representatives as soon as Tuesday to push for concrete action, including the creation of more predictable schedules for employees who often work on two hours' notice.

"There is a systemic problem with the way crews are being scheduled," she told Reuters.

Fox said fatigue has been a factor in numerous investigations of freight train accidents over the last 26 years.

Fatigue management has been repeatedly raised as a safety concern by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents about 10,000 workers at Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

"We're really concerned about the effects of crew fatigue on our members and on rail safety," Don Ashley, national legislative director for the union, said by telephone on Monday.

Ashley said he did not believe it would be a significant cost for railways to create more predictable schedules for workers.

Faced with soft volumes at a time of lackluster commodity prices, freight railroads have been cutting costs as part of their push to improve efficiency and profitability.

Ashley said the union was making "some progress" with CN on scheduling but has not "been that successful with CP."

CP spokesman Jeremy Berry said in 2015, 93 percent of CP's train crews worked fewer than 10 hours per trip, with the majority working fewer than eight hours. If employees are fatigued they can report themselves as unfit, he said.

CN spokesman Patrick Waldron could not offer specifics on scheduling costs.

"We are actively talking and working with our union leaders and employees on fatigue and other important safety issues," he said by email.

Fox also said the federal regulator, Transport Canada, had been slow in addressing previous safety guidance from the TSB, noting that 52 recommendations on various issues have been outstanding for 10 years or more.

Canadian Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement he had asked Transport Canada for "specific areas where faster progress in reducing risks can be made."