Rail news release 2010

TSB # R03/2010

"Poor train marshalling is risky business," the TSB warns again


(Gatineau, Quebec, October 27, 2010) - Echoing its Watchlist, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) warned again today of the risks posed to Canada's communities by the unsafe operation of longer, heavier trains.

In what it calls a trend, the Board links marshalling practices on such trains to more than ten derailments including the 2009 derailment of a CN freight train near Brighton, Ontario.

"The way in which this train was marshalled created high in-train forces much like an accordion. Pulling forces separate cars and pushing forces compress them together," said Rob Johnston, Acting Director of Rail Investigations. "This caused a "knuckle" connecting two cars to break and the train pulled apart. The heavier tail end then collided with the lighter cars ahead causing the derailment," he added.

"Marshalling" is the order in which cars are put together to make a train. The longer the train, the more important the order of heavy and light cars becomes in managing in-train forces. The risk of derailment increases when light empty cars are placed in front of or between heavier ones.

Before 1990, the average train running on Canada's mainlines was about 5000 feet long and weighed 6000 to 7000 tons. Today, it is not uncommon to see 12 000 foot long trains weighing as much as 18 000 tons.

"As trains get longer and heavier, the risk of derailment increases. That is why, last March we flagged this problem on our Watchlist, and have pushed hard to make weight distribution on trains a priority," said Mr. Johnston.

"While the TSB's warnings have lead to some progress, more needs to be done to ensure longer, heavier trains will always be operated safely," he added. "The bottom line is, CN needs to manage these risks system-wide and Transport Canada needs to make sure there is an effective, long-term strategy in place for Canada's railways."


The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation 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
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-994-8053
Email: media@tsb.gc.ca