OHS Canada Magazine

Railway research initiative to find cold climate fix

September 17, 2012

Health & Safety Transportation

EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)

EDMONTON (Canadian OH&S News)

A new university research program will be looking at making Canada’s railways — all 48,000 kilometres of them — safer and more efficient, especially in the harsh cold of northern winters.

The initiative consists of the Canadian Rail Research Laboratory (CaRRL), established at the University of Alberta, as well as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Industrial Research Chair in Railway Geomechanics.

The laboratory is a joint initiative between the federal and provincial governments, the university, the Association of American Railroads and railway operators CN and Canadian Pacific.

“Building a railroad isn’t driving spikes by hand anymore,” said Derek Martin, chair of the CaRRL. “It’s about the technology that keeps it operating 24 hours, the maintenance and freight. Essentially it’s like a pipeline but above ground.”


Research at the university will focus on “improving the efficiency of the railways operating in a harsh and changing Canadian climate” by conducting research into reducing the frequency of slowdowns caused by ground hazards, optimizing rail and rolling stock for cold environments, assessing the impact of climate change and establishing a risk tolerance strategy for railway operations, the laboratory’s website stated.

Martin, who is also a professor at the Edmonton university, explained that the lab is more of a research project spanning many different areas and disciplines of the university.

“You don’t walk into a building and just see one room that says ‘Canadian Rail Research Lab.’ We have a series of equipment used right across campus, in mechanical engineering, in our civil engineering,” he said. There are three similar labs operating at schools in the United States and the lab has an information exchange program set up with the American Association of Railroads, he added.

Railways are not a new topic at the University of Alberta — since 2004, the school has been doing research on ground hazards such as rockslides, landslides and avalanches and how they impact the railway, as well as what mitigating measures can be taken to prevent them. But with the greying of the industry, railways in Canada such as CN and Canada Pacific are looking for new blood, and tapping the universities to drum up enthusiasm for the rail sector.

“Lots of departments right across the country used to have fairly large transportation departments, but as time has gone on a lot of those departments have been eliminated or dwindled in size, and we experienced the same thing,” Martin said. In view of the resurgence in transportation engineering , he added that incorporating a course on railroad operation will expose students to “what is actually going on out there,” he added.

Warren Chandler, regional manager of public and government affairs for CN said from Edmonton that the company will be working with Martin in a support role. “It’s our hope that the establishment of this research chair will heighten the profile of the railway industry within the academic curriculum,” he said.

The lab will receive more than $5-million in funding over the next five years, a news release from the federal government said, with $1-million from Transport Canada and the Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures program, $500,000 from the AAR, CN and Canada Pacific, and $1.5-million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.



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