Canadian Pacific Railway execs take aim at new U.S. electronic braking rules

CALGARY – U.S. requirements for new braking systems on trains carrying flammable liquids would mean additional costs without any guarantee of improved safety, top executives at Canadian Pacific Railway said Thursday.

Adding electronically controlled pneumatic, or ECP, brakes is meant to reduce the pileup effect in the event of a derailment, but railway chief operating officer Keith Creel said the notion that they must be installed is not based on “valid science.”

“I just think that there’s money better spent to get a better safety impact for the public,” he told shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting.

Creel was replying to a shareholder who raised concerns about how new rail safety rules following the fiery crash in Lac-Megantic, Que., nearly two years ago would affect the railway’s bottom line.

The ECP brake rule was announced earlier this month at a news conference with Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. By 2021, there will be a 48 km/h speed limit in the U.S. on trains where a single car lacks new brakes.

Not only may tank car manufacturers face higher costs, but railways would need to retool locomotives to run the ECP-equipped trains, Creel said. On top of that, slower train speeds may also hurt its customers’ business, he added.

The Foxx-Raitt announcement also set out a phase-out plan for the model of tank cars involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster.

Creel had more positive things to say about what’s being done to address that issue, saying requirements for stronger tank cars “can’t happen soon enough.”

CEO Hunter Harrison said the ECP brakes would not have prevented Lac-Megantic.

“That had nothing to do with a moving train. That was a train that was parked. All indications are, as I read in the media, an individual failed to set the brakes. The same would have happened if they were electric brakes,” Harrison said.

It comes down to “human behaviour” rather than regulations, he added.

“Writing another reg doesn’t do any good. If people don’t live up to reg one, two, and three, why are they going to do four?”

Harrison’s contract as CEO ends in mid-2017, after which point he’ll hand the reins to Creel. He said he’d like to still sit on the board of directors or stay on in an advisory role once he leaves the top job.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the change is meant to stop derailments.