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Rail Safety Advisory Letter 617-09/16

Protection of main track against runaway rolling stock at CP’s Sutherland Yard

Place du Centre
200 Promenade du Portage, 4th Floor
Gatineau QC  K1A 1K8

26 April 2016


Letter addressed to the Director General, Rail Safety, Transport Canada


Rail Safety Advisory Letter 617-09/16
Protection of main track against runaway rolling stock at CP’s Sutherland Yard

On 27 March 2016, at about 0223 Central Daylight Time, an empty covered hopper car ran uncontrolled westward from the Canadian Pacific (CP) Sutherland Yard, east of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and on to the main track of CP’s Sutherland Subdivision. The runaway car travelled about 1 mile and over 2 public automated crossings each equipped with flashing lights and bell. The runaway car came to rest on the main track within cautionary limits at Mile 110.5 (Figure 1), a location that is about 0.3 miles from the portion of main track which is operated under the Occupancy Control System (dark territory). (TSB Occurrence No. R16W0074).

Figure 1. Route of uncontrolled movement
Route of uncontrolled movement

While the yard has a gradual east-to-west descending grade of about -0.25%, there is no derail installed at the west end of the yard.

The 2300 Remote Control Locomotive System (RCLS) training yard assignment (the assignment) was working within a permanent point protected zone (PPZ)Footnote 1 at the east end of Sutherland Yard. The RCLS assignment crew (the crew), consisted of a yard foreman and yard helper. Both employees had qualified as conductors in January 2016 and had commenced BeltpackFootnote 2 training in early March 2016.

At the time of the occurrence, the crew was switching cars using Beltpack under the guidance of a 3rd party RCLS trainer who was positioned in the cab of the locomotive. The crew was pulling a cut of cars from track F-6. The plan was to pull the cars to the east end of the track, separate the tail-end car, and leave that car in the track to be moved later in the shift.

The foreman, who was on the ground and in control of the assigment, brought the assignment to a stop, applied a hand brake on the tail-end car to be left on track F-6, performed a push-pull test and lifted the car uncoupling lever in preparation for separating it from the other cars. At that moment, the train crew on CP freight train 602 (Train 602) requested permission from the foreman to proceed through the PPZ with light engines in order to access the shop track. The foreman granted permission to Train 602 to proceed through the PPZ once the assignment was clear in track F-6. The foreman released the hand brake on the tail-end car. With the uncoupling lever still in the lifted position, the foreman began to shove westward in the track. When the assignement stopped, the tail-end covered hopper car uncoupled and ran away uncontrolled down the lead, through the yard, past the west-end yard office and on to the main track.

Subpart E of Transport Canada-approved Rules Respecting Track Safety (Track Safety Rules) states (in part):

Derails must be installed when there is any possibility of equipment that has been left standing on tracks other than main tracks or sidings being moved by gravity so as to obstruct a main track or siding.

A review of TSB’s Rail Occurrence Database System determined that, between 1995 and 2005, there were 5 runaways at Sutherland Yard, all of which rolled uncontrolled westward.

Some time after 2005, yard crews began switching in Sutherland Yard primarily with the train automatic brakes on all cars. When train automatic brakes are used, if a car separates from a movement, the air brakes on the car would automatically apply. Between 2005 and 2015, there were no runaway occurrences at Sutherland Yard.

In early 2016, CP implemented a number of operational changes at Sutherland Yard which included:

Despite these operational changes, no derail was installed at the west end of the yard to protect against potential runaway rolling stock.

Given the potential dangers of runaway equipment, Transport Canada may wish to review how the main track is protected at CP’s Sutherland Yard to ensure that the risks and consequences of runaway rolling stock are minimized.

Yours sincerely,

Original signed by
Kirby Jang
Investigation Operations, Rail/Pipeline

cc: General Manager Operating Standards & Regulatory Affairs,Canadian Pacific Railway

Background information

Occurrence No.



Rob Johnston
Manager, Central Region Operations
TSB Gatineau, QC

Glen Pilon
Senior Regional Investigator
Gatineau, QC