Transport Canada is temporarily restricting train speeds for Canadian Pacific (NYSE: CP) and CN (NYSE: CNI) in British Columbia should hot summer temperatures and dry conditions reach a certain threshold.

The Saturday order, effective through Oct. 31, comes as federal investigators are looking into whether freight train operations might have been involved in starting a fire in Lytton, British Columbia, and destroying a First Nations community there.

The order also comes as both the U.S. and Canada are grappling with severe heat and dry conditions, which in turn are impacting freight rail operations.

Transport Canada’s order applies to freight rail operations between Kamloops and Boston Bar or between Kamloops and North Bend on the Thompson and Ashcroft subdivisions. 

The order is in response to “an unprecedented wildfire that has displaced hundreds of people in Lytton, British Columbia,” as well as extreme weather conditions and wildfire risks in British Columbia and elsewhere. 

Between now and Oct. 31, Class I railways must reduce train speeds to 25 mph in areas where track speeds normally are between 26 mph and 35 mph. Train must also slow down by 10 mph if the permitted train speed is greater than 36 mph. These restrictions apply when the air temperature is 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the fire danger for the area is “extreme.”

For situations when the air temperature is greater than 91 degrees and the fire danger level for the area is extreme, Class I freight trains must reduce train speeds to 25 mph for track speeds between 26 mph and 50 mph. For areas where the permitted track speed is 51 mph or greater, the train speed should be reduced to 30 mph.

The order also defines what areas of the locomotive and track to inspect to ensure that there is no combustive material, and it requires the railways to develop an interim extreme weather fire risk mitigation plan. More details on this part of the order are available here.

Prior to announcing this order, Transport Canada had also required CP and CN to cease the movement of trains for 48 hours starting Friday at midnight local time between Kamloops and Boston Bar. This order, “in the interest of safe railway operations,” allowed residents of Lytton to return temporarily to inspect their homes. 

Meanwhile the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has sent teams to two different areas where a potential train fire might have occurred in order to “gather information and assess the occurrence.”

TSB sent a team to investigate a fire involving a CP train near Sparwood, British Columbia, as well as sent a team to Lytton to investigate a fire there that may have potentially involved a freight train.

CN said in a statement it is engaged in the relief effort and investigation underway at Lytton: “Safety is a core value at CN. As always we will continue to strictly follow protocols and regulations when operating.”

CP said: “Safety is foundational to everything we do and CP will fully comply with the new TC directive.”

Transport Canada has also invited affected First Nation leaders to participate in a demonstration with the agency’s rail safety experts. The Canadian government, as well as CN and CP, will be organizing additional briefs and taking on other actions to connect with First Nations groups, according to Transport Canada.

The restrictions could result in congestion at the Port of Vancouver for CP and CN, according to a Friday Maersk update. 

U.S. destination traffic moving from the Port of Vancouver could see a delay of at least one week, and there could also be increased congestion at terminals as well as vessel delays, Maersk said.

Extreme weather conditions also hampering Western US rail network

Wildfires and extreme heat are also affecting Western U.S. freight rail operations. 

Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) said Friday that a bridge in northern California will remain out of service until September. The Dry Canyon bridge north of Redding sustained significant structural damage because of recent forest fires. 

“Our engineering and operating teams have been working around the clock to restore service to the bridge. Current estimates have the bridge reopening by Sept. 1,” UP said in a service advisory. “A reroute plan is in place to move shipments around the impacted area. As a result of the alternate routing, customers should anticipate between 48 and 72 hours of additional transit time.”

UP also said in a June 29 service update that it was performing additional track inspections and monitoring for any potential wildfire risks in the Pacific Northwest because the region was experiencing extreme heat.

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Related links:

Port of Vancouver feels squeeze from CN, CP wildfire backlog

Dangerous triple-digit heat wave continues across West

Transport Canada issues new speed restrictions for trains hauling dangerous goods