Canada eyes PTC following disaster

August 22, 2013

After the recent disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is looking at possibly implementing positive train control (PTC) systems on its railroads.

In 2010 and 2012, two major train derailments have been linked to trainmen not following signal indications. The incident in 2010 at Saint-Charles-de-Bellechase, Quebec, only caused injuries and property damage, while the 2012 incident in Burlington, Ont., caused the deaths of three engineers.

In both cases, it was found that the trains were traveling at excessive speeds while switching tracks, having missed or misinterpreted signals.

Director of TSB rail and pipeline investigations Kirby Jang explains, “In Canada, we have a system called centralized traffic control, which provides visual signals, but there is no automated stopping or slowing of trains if the train crew were to exceed the limits of their authority.

“We believe that there’s a risk of serious train collisions and derailments if rail signals are not consistently recognized and followed. Really, what we’re trying to advocate is that further safety defenses should be implemented to ensure that signal indications of operating speed or operating limits are consistently recognized and followed. That’s a key finding and recommendation out of Burlington,” Jang said.

According to Jang, there are ongoing discussions about PTC systems, which would automatically reduce a train’s speed if it were moving too fast. The TSB is also looking at placing video and voice recording systems inside the cabs of locomotives as a source of data in the event of another derailment or train disaster like the one in Lac-Mégantic.

The TSB can only make recommendations to Transport Canada; it is then up to Transport Canada to decide whether or not they want to act on the recommendations made by the TSB.