TSB issues safety concern after 2021 locomotive fire and trackside fire near Elko, British Columbia
Richmond, British Columbia, 24 August 2023 — Today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its investigation report (R21V0144) into a 2021 freight train locomotive fire near Elko, British Columbia (BC).
On 08 July 2021, a Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP) train was travelling eastward on the Cranbrook Subdivision near Caithness, BC, when its mid-train locomotive experienced a mechanical failure that resulted in flames and embers emanating from the exhaust stack, likely causing a trackside fire. Due to the locomotive’s remote position in the train, the locomotive fire went undetected until it was observed by the crew of an opposing train.
The trackside fire was reported by a member of the public, grew to 1.2 hectares, and was extinguished by the volunteer local fire department, with the help of BC Wildfire Service.
According to the Province of BC fire danger ratings, the fire danger in the Elko area was high on the day of the occurrence.
Fires on remote locomotives are not uncommon, with 34 incidents involving mid-train/tail-end locomotives reported in the ten years prior to this occurrence, three of which caused right-of-way fires. In addition, 21 other fires have been reported between the date of this occurrence and the end of June 2023.
Currently, modern freight locomotives are not equipped with real-time sensors to monitor, detect, and automatically communicate locomotive fires. 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.
The industry currently uses third-party equipment to wirelessly transmit locomotive data to a central processing centre; however, these systems are not designed to detect fires or alert train crews. Wayside inspection systems are strategically located to monitor select safety-critical parameters, but they lack cameras or heat sensors to detect fires, including those on remote locomotives.
Following this occurrence, CP implemented the following measures:
- no locomotive is operated through areas where the fire danger is rated as extreme, unless it has been inspected in the previous 15 days;
- extreme weather fire risk mitigation plans that address fire detection, monitoring, and response measures; and
- enhanced vegetation control measures along the right-of-way .
Furthermore, the rail industry has developed the Railway Extreme Heat and Fire Risk Mitigation Rules which were approved by the Minister of Transport. The rules require railway companies to have appropriate methods in place to detect and prevent fires during periods of extreme fire risk. While the TSB is encouraged by this initiative, there is currently insufficient data to assess the full impact of these new rules on reducing onboard fires and right-of-way fires.
Early detection of locomotive fires would allow for prompt intervention to prevent the spread of these fires. Until technologies are implemented to detect fires on remotely located locomotives, there is a risk that those fires will remain undetected using existing methods, which could lead to trackside fires that extend beyond the right-of-way or damage to the rolling stock.
Therefore, the Board is concerned that steps have not been taken to leverage and expand the use of existing on-board locomotive systems to monitor remote locomotives for common types of fires while trains are in operation.
See the investigation page for more information.
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.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada