TSB Warns Railroads About Remote Locomotive Fires

The DPU locomotive Canadian Pacific on a coal train in British Columbia sparked a small wildfire prompting an investigation. Photo Courtesy of TSB.

TSB Warns Railroads About Remote Locomotive Fires

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is warning railroads about the dangers of fires aboard remotely operated locomotives. 

On August 24, TSB issued its final report about a locomotive fire near Caithness, B.C., in July 2021, which sparked a small wildfire. According to the investigation, the remotely operated locomotive (also known as a distributed power unit or DPU) on an eastbound train caught fire near Caithness siding, sending sparks and embers into the nearby brush thus sparking a small wildfire. However, the crew on the train did not realize the locomotive was on fire until it stopped at the next siding at Elko for a meet and the crew aboard a westbound train informed them of the fire. 

According to TSB, there were at least 34 incidents in the ten years before July 2021, where mid-train or rear-end locomotives caught fire, three of which resulted in wildfires along the right-of-way. Since 2021, there have been 21 other fires aboard DPUs. 

“Currently, modern freight locomotives are not equipped with real-time sensors to monitor, detect, and automatically communicate locomotive fires,” investigators wrote. “Therefore, the industry currently relies on inspections of passing trains by railway employees, and on reports made by the public to identify and report a fire condition. This creates a risk that an on-board fire will go undetected for an extended duration, potentially migrating to the right-of-way and beyond.”

Since the 2021 incident, CP has vowed to not use locomotives that have not been inspected in the last 15 days in areas where the fire danger is extreme and to enhance its brush control along the tracks. 

This article was posted on: September 13, 2023