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Canada orders rail safety measures to reduce risk of wildfires

cp rail lytton

Canada on Sunday ordered rail transport restrictions for areas where there is a high wildfire risk in both British Columbia and nationally after a blaze wiped out the B.C. town of Lytton and killed two people earlier this month.

The order will require both Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway to take a number of precautions to protect against wildfires, including reducing train speeds, Transport Canada said in a statement.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Friday ordered a 48-hour stop to rail transport in parts of B.C., which expired Saturday at midnight. The new restrictions took effect on Sunday morning and will remain until Oct. 31.

The order “will put in place interim measures while the department works with railway companies to incorporate these fire risk reduction measures on a permanent basis,” the department said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) on Friday said it was deploying teams of investigators to see if freight trains were potentially responsible for sparking two fires, including the one that ravaged Lytton.

The Lytton blaze erupted after the town broke Canada’s more than 80-year-old heat record with a 49.6 C temperature. There are now 297 wildfires burning in British Columbia, an increase of 97 in two days, according to official data.

The order also spelled out localized safety measures for operations between Kamloops and Boston Bar or between Kamloops and North Bend on the Thompson and Ashcroft branch tracks.

In areas of the province facing extreme fire risk, CN and CP must ensure at least 10 fire detection patrols, remove combustible materials from the tracks and ask conductors to report fires they spot, among other measures.

Nationally, trains will have to run at reduced speeds when there is extreme fire risk and when the outdoor temperature is high. CN and CP will also be required to come up with a fire risk mitigation plan and consult with Indigenous communities about fire hazards.

Under the ministerial order, the two companies must ensure speeds are reduced along Class 1 railways, the largest in the country, once temperatures reach 30 C and over.

Wildfires burning across B.C. damaged rail lines and idled thousands of rail cars last week. This caused a backlog of freight shipments in and out of the port of Vancouver, which is slowly starting to clear.

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