Canada Limits Train Speeds as It Probes Village Blaze

Canada’s transportation authority imposed new rules on its two largest railroad companies operating in wildfire-ravaged British Columbia as it investigates whether a train caused a blaze that destroyed a village two weeks ago.

Canadian National Railway Co. and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. will have to ensure they can respond within 60 minutes to any fire detected along rail lines in the most affected areas of B.C., according to a Sunday statement from Transport Canada.

Train conductors also become responsible for spotting fires or smoldering areas, and the rail companies are required to remove vegetation and combustible material from near tracks and ensure areas are patrolled regularly where trains are running and the risk of fire is considered extreme.

The rules come as the government investigates whether a June 30 wildfire that destroyed Lytton was caused in part by a freight train. Both CN and CP Rail operate lines near the village in B.C.’s interior. Transport Canada ordered a 48-hour halt on Friday to railway operations in the area as residents temporarily returned to inspect the damage.

The bulk of rail cargo transported to the Pacific port of Vancouver for export -- including lumber, grains and crude oil -- goes through the impacted area. The disaster has snarled thousands of rail cars and created a bottleneck at Canada’s largest port.

“Unprecedented weather conditions in British Columbia continue to pose a serious threat to public safety and railway operations,” Omar Alghabra, Canada’s minister of transport, said in Sunday’s statement. “The government of Canada remains committed to supporting those affected by the devastating wildfires in British Columbia.”

More than 300 wildfires are burning across Canada’s westernmost province as unusually hot, dry weather provide ideal conditions for blazes to start. The government also issued wildfire mitigation rules that will apply across the rest of the country, including requiring the largest rail operators to reduce train speeds on hot days in areas where fire risk is considered extreme, and to inspect exhaust passages of locomotives operating in such areas for combustible material. All these rules will be in effect until the end of October.

A transportation bottleneck caused by track damage and the Friday suspension comes during the slowest time of year for grain shipments and after record-high exports cut stockpiles. That means there is room in Prairie grain elevators and farm bins to store commodities for longer while farmers continue to sell goods for future delivery.

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