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Western Railroad Discussion > Canadian National's PR Disasters


Date: 08/11/05 10:56
Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: BobE

Story in today's (Toronto) Globe & Mail.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20050811.wcn108111/BNStory/National/

or



Registration may be required to view (IIRC, globeandmail.com gives a few days of free viewing, but if you go there a bunch, it'll require registration).

Excerpt:

On Aug. 3, more than 500,000 litres of oil spilled into Lake Wabamun, 65 kilometres west of Edmonton. Initially, CN reported that one of the spilled cars contained lube oil, but it was discovered upon further investigation to be carrying pole-treatment oil, a carcinogen.

It is estimated that up to 80,000 litres of pole-treating oil were spilled at the site.

The revelation prompted local health officials to upgrade a warning to residents. After initially telling them not to swim or boat in the lake or drink well water, it subsequently warned against showering, brushing their teeth or even handling animals or birds that were trapped in the sludge that now coats the banks of the lake.

The upgraded warning came five days after the crash, well after many volunteers starting handling wildlife from the lake.


Another excerpt:

On Aug. 5, two days after the Alberta spill, another CN Rail freight train derailed about 30 kilometres north of Squamish, B.C., sending nine cars into the Cheakamus River canyon and causing another toxic spill.

Roughly 40,000 litres (memo: that's about 11,000 gallons) of sodium hydroxide, a highly corrosive liquid used in the pulp-and-paper industry, spilled into the river, devastating the local marine wildlife. Residents reported dead fish covering the banks of the river, and several people also complained that it took more than 12 hours for officials to notify them about the spill.


Following that, a bunch of CN-bashing from the Sierra Club of Canada and union officials.

Excerpt:

The unions contend that CN's safety record has declined since it was privatized in 1995 and began shedding staff even as it expanded operations by taking over U.S.-based Illinois Central Railroad in 1998, as well as Crown-owned B.C. Rail in 2003.

“We speculate or believe there are some correlating issues here between the downsizing, the weight increase, the train length increase, CN moving from a Crown corporation to a private organization and that kind of stuff,” said John Burns, vice-president of CAW Local 100 in Vancouver. (memo: CN never had an accident ever when it was a Crown Corporation). (I was being sarcastic).

Last excerpt:

Bruce Willows, senior vice-chairman of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, dismissed suggestions that his union was exploiting the incidents to push for more jobs.

“Railway safety doesn't impact directly on our numbers,” he said. “It impacts directly on our members' lives, their health and safety.

“What we want to do is exclude the possibility that somehow cutbacks have resulted in a reduction with respect to maintenance of track and equipment.”


BobE









Date: 08/11/05 11:28
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: fbe

But Bob, it is all the need to meet the expectations of Wall St and the international investing community that are leading the drive to keep costs down. You know the people who are telling the railroads to wring out every last penny of unneeded expense to get the quarterly numbers to a competitive level.

The managers are just stupidly optimistic and cannot ever see a situation where a car of hazardous material might contaminate a waterway since their corporation is making the numbers the investors are asking for so their managerial skills must be outstanding in every way. Outstanding managers do not have to allow for the mundane problems such as derailments account their managerial skills are so stellar.

PR people who can talk to the civilians and clerks who can keep track of what is really contained in the computerized waybills for all those dirty rail cars are an unnecessary expense. They do not help make the quarterly numbers the investment analysts seek.

Stupidly optimistic, yeah, I like that a lot.......



Date: 08/11/05 11:34
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: 72368

Wouldn't it be prudent for those of us who enjoy railroads as I do to wait for a determination of the cause of the accident before we start blaming CN?? I am certain CN doesn't want a derailment either.....


Tioga Pass



Date: 08/11/05 11:47
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: NormSchultze

It was a CN train on CN track with cars that CN accepted. So, just who else is to blame, Eh?



Date: 08/11/05 13:07
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: toledopatch

NormSchultze Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> It was a CN train on CN track with cars that CN
> accepted. So, just who else is to blame, Eh?


Well, in some cases, it's idiot motorists who cause derailments by crashing into trains. Or beavers whose dams burst well upstream and cause washouts. Or other forces beyond the railroad's control. Though not necessarily true in either of these cases.



Date: 08/11/05 13:37
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: BobE

fbe Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> But Bob, it is all the need to meet the
> expectations of Wall St and the international
> investing community that are leading the drive to
> keep costs down.



Alan, they had accidents when they were owned by the government, did not care to keep costs down and were generally unaccountable to anyone.

And in the modern day, if they don't keep costs down, then Wall Street and Bay Street, who are only the company's owners, turn off the money. Then there remains no ability to run trains.

It's a tough world out there, and not just in railroading. Sorry to break the news to you.

BobE



Date: 08/11/05 13:41
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: dxm332

CN has a potential criminal law issue

Boutilier (Alberta Environment minster) has said CN Rail will face criminal charges if the company turns out to have misled officials by neglecting to report what exactly had spilled.




Date: 08/11/05 14:58
old news
Author: fbe

Bob,

Nothing new to me, I just get to see the results from way down in the trenches. I have beeen involved in hazmat spills and hazmat exercises and it truely amazes me that the first place everyone wants to go is to the railroad HQ for the information. All the data needed is printed reasonably clearly on the shipping papers in the possession of the crew. All the responders have to do is read the damn things. They quickly send someone down to collect the papers from the crew and then lose them in the shuffle while they await a reply from the RR world HQ. In my case they sent an armed deputy down to demand surrender of the papers which were never seen again. Fortunately just hot asphalt was involved but still there were wasted hours of time which could have been better used.

Too many short cuts and too few people and too little service chasing the money. It is a bad way to run a business and in the long run very financially short sighted. And so goes my analysis. Nothing personal, you have to put food on your table just like the rest of us do and Fujichrome is not getting any cheaper, either.

Alan



Date: 08/11/05 19:45
Re: old news
Author: BobE

fbe Wrote:

and Fujichrome is not getting any cheaper, either.



Ha! Now that you've done digital, you've lost track of what goes on in the film world! I bought a freezer to hold the mammoth quantity of really cheap Fujichrome I bought last month.....a ten years' supply at my current consumption rates.

BobE



Date: 08/11/05 22:36
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: TCnR

> -----
> It's a tough world out there, and not just in
> railroading. Sorry to break the news to you.
>



The examples sited seem to be far behind the curve for modern emergency communications and then also clean-up techniques, PR control, circular finger pointing etc. CN and most RR's have a huge potential for damage to rivers, lakes and wildlife in general due to the route-finding techinique of following water courses for best grade and ease of general construction. One major factor for keeping these incidents under control is the huge potential cost of making things right again, including the simple losses of equipment and traffic volume. At least the Cuyahoga doesn't catch fire anymore.



Date: 08/12/05 02:20
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: rob_l

Cost control that does not factor in risk assessment and risk control is not cost control at all. It is bad management.

In general, RR managements have been pushing almost exclusively the cost button to try and get profits up. There is another button that can be pushed. When capacity is in short supply, you can make a lot of money if that other button is pushed wisely. You have to know a lot about your customers' businesses and what various transportation services are worth to them, not just know a lot about RR costs and operations.

Best regards,

Rob L.



Date: 08/12/05 06:00
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: NormSchultze

AHHHH, the damned beavers ! It just couldn't be the Railroad.

But don't cry too many crocodile tears for CN. They have sufficient data to have built the cost of disasters into the freight rate.

Only when the white collar criminals who have allowed the situation to deteriorate go to jail will the status change.



Date: 08/12/05 08:29
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: HaggisKennedy

That's presuming that CN knew what was really in that tank car. If the company that hired the car filled it with something other than what was listed on the shipping documents, CN may have a leg to stand on.

Kennedy



Date: 08/12/05 11:13
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: NormSchultze

Kennedy
You mean CN didn't know what they thought they were hauling? Unreal! If the company that loaded all those tankers filed a false bill of laden, then I would presume they ,too are in trouble.

But, the fact remains...a CN train on CN track with cars that CN accepted caused the problem.




Date: 08/12/05 11:41
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: BobE

NormSchultze Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Kennedy
> You mean CN didn't know what they thought they
> were hauling? Unreal! If the company that
> loaded all those tankers filed a false bill of
> laden, then I would presume they ,too are in
> trouble.



Just like SP and the Cantara Loop derailment of (uhhhhh....) 1991? SP got in trouble, so did GATX, which owned the tank car, the company that leased the car and sub-let it in violation of their GATX contract and the company that ultimately loaded the car with a chemical that GATX had specified it shouldn't be hauling. I don't remember if SP knew what was in the car....they probably did.

BobE



Date: 08/13/05 00:54
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: TCnR

BobE Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
...
> Just like SP and the Cantara Loop derailment of
> (uhhhhh....) 1991? SP got in trouble, so did
> GATX, which owned the tank car, the company that
> leased the car and sub-let it in violation of
> their GATX contract and the company that
> ultimately loaded the car with a chemical that
> GATX had specified it shouldn't be hauling. I
> don't remember if SP knew what was in the
> car....they probably did.
>
> BobE


Whoa, didn't catch that one the first time through, interesting info.
Googling Cantara Loop will list a whole bunch of reports and such about the spill. The later reports have a different twist to them than the first editions. Glad we haven't had to go through that again.



Date: 08/16/05 08:34
Re: Canadian National's PR Disasters
Author: HaggisKennedy

No, what I meant was that CN delivered a car to be loaded with used oil. The company mixes something else in it, but the manifest only states "used oil".

I don't think CN (or any other RR) pulls a sample and tests every tank car that comes by, to verify that's exactly what's in there.

So, there's a spill. Manifest says 'used oil', but testing shows a huge amount of arsenic....

I'm saying that it's on the loading company now. CN can say that the loading company misled them. I think that was also an issue on a derailment last year; the chemical plant loaded something into the tank car they shouldn't have, and the car ruptured.

Kennedy



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