Rail transportation safety investigation R21V0143
Potential train activity-related fire
Vicinity of Mile 98.3, Canadian National Ashcroft Subdivision
Lytton, British Columbia (as reported by BC Wildfire Service)
On 30 June 2021, at approximately 1650 Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), smoke was spotted on the nearby hills around the pedestrian bridge which parallels the Canadian National (CN) bridge at Lytton BC.
Due to the high winds and dry conditions in the area, a fire, which had ignited, quickly spread to the Village of Lytton, destroying many buildings and homes. An evacuation order was issued by Lytton’s Mayor at 1800 PDT. Two fatalities have been reported at this time.
Initial investigations conducted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and BC Wildfire Service into the fire’s ignition point raised concerns regarding the potential involvement of a freight train. As such, the TSB deployed an investigator on 09 July 2021 to gather information and assess the situation.
To date, the TSB has not received any occurrence reports from Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) nor CN related to the Lytton fire.
What we know
The Lytton area had been very hot and dry for many days leading up to the fire, reaching Canadian records for heat on two days during this time. On 29 June, the Lytton reference climate station operated by Environment and Climate Change Canada recorded a record maximum temperature of 49.4 °C. The area was dry and high winds were present when a fire ignited.
Both CN and CP trains operated through the area during this period of extreme heat.
Work done to date and ongoing
- A TSB investigator was deployed to Lytton to gather information, liaise with other agencies, and speak to those who could help in developing a timeline of events. Another Vancouver-based TSB investigator provided logistical support.
- Comprehensive information requests have been sent to both CN and CP.
- A train that passed through Lytton on 30 June on the CN Ashcroft Subdivision was inspected by the TSB on 10 July. The train was secured by the RCMP in Burnaby, BC, prior to this inspection.
- The TSB investigator contacted the Lytton First Nation to provide details on the TSB’s role and activities.
- Further interviews will take place involving train crews, track maintenance, locomotive maintenance and rail traffic control personnel.
- A timeline of all railway operations and maintenance activity in the Lytton area leading up to the time of the fire will be established.
- Available video footage from locomotive video cameras will be obtained and analyzed.
- Testing of the locomotives that were part of trains moving through the area immediately prior to the report of the fire will be conducted in an attempt to determine if sparking had occurred. (Refer to backgrounder on common causes of fire in Canada’s rail transportation sector.)
- Locomotive inspection and maintenance records for the locomotives on the trains that passed through the area immediately prior to the fire will be obtained and reviewed with specific attention to exhaust stack and spark arrester inspection and maintenance and the removal of combustible material from engine compartments.
- Railway and regulatory locomotive inspection and maintenance requirements will be reviewed with a view to establishing their efficacy regarding exhaust stack and spark arrester inspection frequency and cleaning practices.
- Railway and regulatory locomotive inspection and maintenance requirements for the cleaning of engine compartments and the removal of combustible material will be reviewed.
- Remote locomotive monitoring and visual inspection practices will be reviewed.
- Rail grinding activities in the Lytton area leading up to the time of the fire will be analyzed.
- Rail grinding and other track maintenance activities (i.e., rail welding) will be reviewed to establish if protocols are in place to restrict activities through areas of high or extreme fire hazard.
- Railway fire suppression measures and protocols for fire prevention at times of high or extreme fire hazard, as required by the Prevention and Control of Fires on Line Works Regulations, will be reviewed.
- Railway communication protocols for the reporting of fires to municipal and provincial authorities will be reviewed.
- Common Causes of Fires in Canada’s Rail Transportation Sector
- TSB Regulations: Mandatory Reporting Rail Occurrences
- Rail transportation occurrences in 2020
Reporting an occurrence to the TSB
In accordance with the TSB Regulations, reportable accidents or incidents must be reported to the Board as soon as possible and by the quickest means available. A standby investigator is ready to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Direct or collect: 819-997-7887
The TSB administers a program called SECURITAS that enables you to report—in confidence—concerns you may have about safety in the marine, pipeline, rail and air modes of transportation. The incidents and potentially unsafe acts or conditions you report through SECURITAS are not always reported through other channels. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada will never reveal your identity or any information that could identify who you are. By reporting an unsafe act or condition, you can help make a real difference towards improving transportation safety.
Map showing the location of the occurrence
James Carmichael has been with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) in the Railway/Pipeline Investigations Branch since 2008. During his time at the TSB he has been a key investigator in a number of investigations in Western Canada.
Before joining the TSB, Mr. Carmichael held various mechanical positions with four separate railroads. At British Columbia Railway (BCR) from 1980 to 2004, Mr. Carmichael gained considerable experience in the mechanical field; he worked as a carman and progressed into a management role as general supervisor in the Car Department. Over the next 4 years Mr. Carmichael worked for CN Rail and CP Rail as a mechanical supervisor. He was also regional manager for Mechanical with OmniTRAX's Carlton Trail, Hudson Bay, and Okanagan Valley Railroads. He holds certifications as a hazardous materials technician and tank car specialist and was a member of BCR’s Emergency Response Team. Mr. Carmichael lives in Calgary, Alberta.
Class of investigation
This occurrence is still being assessed. For more information, see the Policy on Occurrence Classification.
TSB investigation process
There are 3 phases to a TSB investigation
- Field phase: a team of investigators examines the occurrence site and wreckage, interviews witnesses and collects pertinent information.
- Examination and analysis phase: the TSB reviews pertinent records, tests components of the wreckage in the lab, determines the sequence of events and identifies safety deficiencies. When safety deficiencies are suspected or confirmed, the TSB advises the appropriate authority without waiting until publication of the final report.
- Report phase: a confidential draft report is approved by the Board and sent to persons and corporations who are directly concerned by the report. They then have the opportunity to dispute or correct information they believe to be incorrect. The Board considers all representations before approving the final report, which is subsequently released to the public.
For more information, see our Investigation process page.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.