Transport Canada issues new speed restrictions for trains hauling dangerous goods

A photograph of a train hauling railcars.

The Canadian government has issued new guidance that revises how fast freight trains carrying dangerous goods can go.

The new orders, announced by Minister of Transport Marc Garneau on April 3, slow down the speeds of what Transport Canada calls “higher-risk key trains” during the winter months, with new speeds prescribed if temperatures fall below -25°C.  The orders also direct the railways to improve maintenance and inspection practices by updating current industry rules governing track safety and addressing the movement of dangerous goods in Canada. 

Freight trains are considered key trains if they have one or more loaded tank cars of dangerous goods that are toxic by inhalation or if they contain 20 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods. Higher-risk key trains carry crude oil or liquefied petroleum gases in a continuous block of 20 more tank cars or 35 or more tank cars dispersed throughout the train, according to Transport Canada. 

The orders, which are effective immediately, are in response to several recent incidents that involved derailed trains that carried railcars hauling dangerous goods. Transport Canada restricted train speeds following a February 6 derailment of a Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) train near Guernsey, Saskatchewan, but it revised the speed restrictions later that month. Another train derailment involving a CP train also occurred on December 9 near Guernsey.

While the Transportation Safety Board is still investigating both incidents, the new guidance revises what defines higher-risk key trains and it asks the railways to slow down train speeds between November 15 and March 15. The former guidance defined higher-risk key trains as unit trains where tank cars are loaded with a single dangerous goods commodity moving to the same point of destination, or trains that include any combination of 80 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods.

The new restrictions are as follows:

Type of train

Speed limit of train in metropolitan areas Speed limit of train in areas where there are track signals Speed limit of train in areas where there are no track signals
Higher-risk key trainsMarch 16 to November 14 30 miles per hour (mph) 50 mph 50 mph (previously 25 mph per Feb. 16 guidance)
Higher-risk key trainsNovember 15 to March 15 (new category) 25 mph 40 mphOR 30 mph when temperature is -25°C or colder 25 mph
Key trains 35 mph 50 mph 50 mph (previously 40 mph per Feb. 16 guidance)