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Management error blamed for CN derailment
Source: Globe & Maill - IAN BAILEY
Smoke and flames from burning fuel pour from a train after two trains collided on the banks of the Fraser River in Prince George, B.C., Saturday.Published: August 7, 2007
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CN investigation finds 'experienced manager' at fault in collision of two trains in Prince George

VANCOUVER -- Canadian National Railway Co. has concluded that "an experienced manager" with the company was to blame for a weekend derailment that sent one train into a collision with another in Prince George in an incident that has raised new questions about the B.C. safety record of Canada's largest railway operation.

CN's conclusion, announced yesterday, came as the company was at odds with B.C.'s Environment Minister over whether CN complied with provincial regulations that compel the timely notification of provincial authorities when a chemical spill occurs.

Kelli Svendsen, a CN spokeswoman, said a CN investigation has found that "employee error" was to blame for Saturday's accident, which sparked a major fire. 

No one was injured.

Fuel from the crash entered the Fraser River, raising fears of environmental damage, though B.C. Environment Minister Barry Penner said yesterday none had been detected.

"The employee involved was an experienced manager who has also worked in a unionized position doing exactly this kind of train handling," Ms. Svendsen said.

She declined to identify the employee, the errors or discuss any possible sanctions.

"There are procedures employees are required to follow when operating trains. If these procedures are not followed, there are consequences."

Mr. Penner said yesterday his ministry will be looking into whether CN moved quickly enough to notify the provincial emergency program of the spill after the crash.

"Preliminary indications are CN did not notify us as quickly as I would think would be appropriate," Mr. Penner said in an interview.

He declined to specify his concerns, but said they were significant enough to warrant attention.

"We're going to be investigating to see if, in fact, [timely notification] occurred in this case. I am not going to conclude they didn't call as soon as possible or as indicated by the regulation, but there has been some suggestion they did not call as quickly as they could have."

Ms. Svendsen rejected Mr. Penner's concerns. "The minister is mistaken. The normal processes and procedures were followed," she said.

She said CN notified fire officials and RCMP within five minutes, and the provincial emergency program was also swiftly called.

Saturday's spill occurred only a day after the company was hit with five charges - two under the federal Fisheries Act and three under the B.C. Environmental Management Act - over a 2005 derailment near Squamish that sent 40,000 litres of caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide, into the Cheakamus River, killing an estimated 500,000 fish.

A report by the federal Transportation Safety Board said CN made a number of mistakes that caused the crash.

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