Inadequate safety training to blame for Edmonton rail accident

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) identified a lack of training, including training on the use of safety watch protection, as one of the causal factors that led to an accident in which three track maintainers were struck by a train. Two sustained serious injuries.
On the morning of Dec. 26, 2012, an eastbound Canadian National freight train struck three employees of A&B Rail Services Limited, a track maintenance company hired by CN, near a main track switch in the Edmonton area.

The three were engaged in clearing snow and ice from track at the switch; two were wearing portable gas-powered backpack blowers at the time. When the train crew noticed the maintainers working on the main track, they sounded the train's bell and horn, but there was no noticeable reaction from the maintainers. The train crew then applied emergency brakes, but could not stop the train in time to avoid the workers.

The investigation found that noise from the backpack blowers prevented the three maintainers from hearing the approaching train's bell and horn, and with their backs turned to the oncoming train, they did not see it approaching. In addition, the investigation found that, although CN had conducted a job briefing with the A&B supervisor, the track maintainers who were to perform the work were not present.

Despite the railway's obligation to ensure that others who are granted access to railway property are properly trained and supervised, and despite A&B's obligation to protect the health and safety of its employees by ensuring that they are properly trained, the A&B track employees had not been fully trained in safe railway working practices, were not being directly supervised, and had not been made aware of changes to safety watch procedures.

On Jan. 8, 2013, the TSB sent a rail safety advisory to Transport Canada. The advisor suggested that Transport Canada may wish to review the manner in which railways implement, monitor and conduct training in safety watch protection to ensure that instructions are properly applied and that adequate protection is provided to all track maintenance personnel, including contracted employees.

Transport Canada responded that it is working with the Railway Association of Canada to add a rule to the Canadian Rail Operating Rules pertaining to the use of safety watch protection. This initiative may bring the application of safety watch protection under regulatory oversight.