Canadian Pacific, Government Investigators Butt Heads on BC Fire

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

CALGARY — Canadian Pacific officials are blasting the Transportation Safety Board of Canada after one of the agency’s board members said a fire that destroyed a small town in British Columbia this month was a “wake-up call” about the dangers of running trains in extreme heat, despite the fact that the investigation has not yet linked a train to the blaze. 

On June 30, 90 percent of the village of Lytton in the Fraser River Canyon was destroyed by a fire. Rumors spread in the community shortly after that the fire had been started by a passing train although there is no conclusive evidence of that yet. However, on July 9, TSB announced that it was deploying a team there to look into the possibility that the tragic fire was started by a train

CP and Canadian National, which share trackage through the canyons, have said they will cooperate with investigators but that they are confident that a train didn’t start the blaze. According to a press release from CP on July 16, “To the best of CP’s knowledge, the last train that passed through Lytton on CN’s Ashcroft Subdivision before the fire started was a CN train known to CP as CN 731L. To clarify, while this train is CP equipment, with CP locomotives and railcars, it was transferred to the care, custody and control of CN at Kamloops in the morning of June 30, 2021, and was being operated by CN, using CP’s locomotives, over CN’s own tracks on the Ashcroft Subdivision. Transport Canada inspected that train on July 6 and confirmed in a letter dated July 7 that there were ‘no non-compliance or concerns’ in relation to that train.”

The railroad continued, “CP confirms that it has also inspected that train, as well as all other CP trains that went through the town of Lytton during the relevant time period on June 30 when we understand the fire started. Based on our review of train records, including contemporaneous video footage, CP has found nothing to indicate that any of CP’s trains or equipment that passed through Lytton caused or contributed to the fire.”

Officials have said the investigation could take up to two years. However, on July 15, TSB member Kathy Fox reportedly said that, “I think this is certainly a wake-up call to really look at what precautions need to be taken by railway companies, particularly when you’re operating in extreme temperatures and in areas that are already bone dry and can go up with not much ignition.” CP took issue with the comment because it implied a train was responsible before the investigation had even been completed. 

“In light of the early stage of this TSB investigation, we believe it is irresponsible and misleading for the Chair of the TSB to imply that railways are to blame for the fire,” CP officials wrote. 

This article was posted on: July 20, 2021