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CN increasing track inspections to further improve safety performance

CN's new track geometry vehicle will be used along with the company's TEST car to give reports on track conditions.

MONTREAL, Que. — Canadian National Railway (CN) will be using a new track geometry vehicle for the electronic inspection of track curvature, alignment and cross-level of rail lines across its network.

The state-of-the-art, self-propelled vehicle is bi-directional and supplements CN’s high-tech TEST (Track Evaluation System) car for gathering continuous, real-time printed reports on track condition. CN engineering forces use the reports to address any track irregularities and to plan long-term rail replacement programs.

In a first for CN, the new vehicle – custom-built for CN by Gateway Rail Services of Madison, Ill., with a geometry system produced by ENSCO of Falls Church, Va. – is equipped with high-speed cameras and optical recognition software to detect possible flaws in joint-bars that connect sections of rail.

Paul Miller, CN’s chief safety and transportation officer, said: “Maintaining proper track geometry is integral to safe train operations. The acquisition of the new vehicle will permit us to increase the amount of in-house main line track-geometry testing across our network. We take quality track seriously. Of CN’s $1.5 billion capital budget this year, C$1.1 billion is focused on track infrastructure.”

In 2007, CN conducted geometric testing of approximately 65,000 miles of track, an increase of 35% over 2006. This year CN plans to boost its geometric testing by a further 15% to 75,000 track miles.

CN also employs contractors using vehicles with sophisticated ultrasonic technology to detect internal rail defects that normally cannot be detected visually during routine track inspections. Ultrasonic rail flaw testing will increase to about 145,000 miles this year, double what CN did five years ago.

In addition, CN uses a wide range of other technologies to monitor the condition of locomotives and freight cars moving over its network. These include hot bearing detectors, hot wheel detectors, dragging equipment detectors, wheel impact load detectors and wheel profile detectors. CN has one of the highest applications of such detectors of any railroad in North America.

“Our increased focus on track geometry and ultrasonic rail inspections in recent years has contributed to CN’s improved safety performance in 2008,” said Miller. “CN’s total Transportation Safety Board of Canada-reportable (TSB-reportable) train accidents are down more than 30% year-to-date through Oct. 26, 2008, in comparison with the same 2007 period. Of particular note is the 26% reduction in CN main-track TSB-reportable accidents, as well as a 45% reduction in total accident severity.”

CN’s 2008 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) train accident rate through Oct. 26 of this year was 2.55 per million train miles. The 2008 Class 1 railroad FRA industry average train accident ratio in North America through the end of July the latest available data was 2.95.

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