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CP Rail CEO Hunter Harrison attends the company's AGM in Toronto on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
CP Rail CEO Hunter Harrison attends the company's AGM in Toronto on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Q&A

CP Rail CEO on bridge collapse and reaching out to Nenshi Add to ...

After Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi took aim at Canadian Pacific, chief executive officer Hunter Harrison arrived at Calgary’s Emergency Operations Centre – the flood-response nerve centre where Mr. Nenshi is often holed up – on Thursday to make peace. Before the meeting, Mr. Harrison spoke with reporters about the partial collapse, the urge to keep trains moving and how it could have been worse.

The mayor is asking why this bridge was examined Saturday when the water was still high?

Well, the bridge was in jeopardy more when the higher the water is, and the faster the current – is when the bridge is more susceptible to problems associated with it. So we inspected it then, and that was not the only time. It was inspected five times that week.

With Saturday being the final one?

No, there were others. Look, you got formal inspections that you check off a grid that are required by the regs [regulations]. You’ve got many other observations which are technically inspections of people riding by, looking at the rails, looking at ties, seeing if there’s been any movement that will indicate a problem. This happened like that. [snap]. The first part of the train got over it. The lead 75 cars or so got across the bridge. And it was clearly a failure on the piers at the bottom of the river. We couldn’t have seen anything from an inspection on top unless there was severe movement as a result of the failure down below. So, we would have normally probably put divers in to inspect, but the current was too fast. Somebody would drown if they went in there. Plus the current was so fast, it’s so murky, you can’t see to do an appropriate inspection.

Why not take the time to allow the river to drop so you could get the divers in to take a proper look at the foundation?

We didn’t anticipate a problem like this occurring at all. And how long was that going to be? We’re jeopardizing commerce as it speaks. We had no idea that there was any compromise of safety whatsoever… as we checked the records this morning, we hadn’t had a failure like that where a bridge was compromised, to use that term, and a car went in since 1944. This is a pretty extraordinary occurrence, just like the rains and the flooding here. It’s like a, depending on who you listen to, 110-year, 150-year flood conditions. So this is pretty extraordinary.

What do you plan on telling the mayor?

First of all, I want to open a dialogue with him. I think there are some things that maybe – maybe – he misunderstood. I want to add some clarity to that. For an example, he made some observations that we had fired a lot of people, and he wanted to know how many bridge inspectors we’d fired. Well, we hadn’t fired any bridge inspectors.

Have you laid off any?

No. No engineering people have been laid off. Mechanical? Yes. Operating? Yes. Headquarters and administrative? Yes. We’ve talked publicly about the downsizing, but we’ve not done anything with engineering personnel or bridge inspectors or supervisors of the bridge inspectors.

The other [CP] bridge will be used, I presume?

After we get all the commodity transferred tonight, which they’re starting probably as we speak. It’ll probably be, I would guess, 8 or 9 o’clock when we have that. And then we get everything cleared out, everything safe, when we’ve checked and inspected thoroughly again the other bridge, which is of a different style and type

Much newer, as well?

Yes, it’s a ‘69 bridge, as opposed to 1912.

This is related to the flood, you believe, but there was nothing that could have been done?

Yes. After we’ve done all the inspections we can do, checked all the records, that’s our professional opinion.

So what happened?

A: What happened? The pier failed, effectively got loose in the footing, which was gravel, effectively. Not bedrock. [It’s a] 1912 bridge. Although it should last a lot longer, under ‘normal’ circumstances. And when it failed, it tilted, caused additional pressure and it cracked. And when it cracked, it dropped down, and as a result of it dropping down, those cars, those six cars, derailed on the bridge. Now, we had some people watching, and they were able to get the train stopped. The train was restricted to 10 miles an hour, and I think we were going 8.9 on the tape. That’s the bottom line. It’s a pretty simple equation.

So it wasn’t driver error.

The crews did everything that they were required to do, plus. So we took no exceptions whatsoever to their handling of it.

Do you think your investors are concerned at all about this? There have been a series of high-profile derailments.

Well, look, we’re all concerned when you have an incident like this. I don’t think it’s anything major that they’d do anything differently as a result. They, like we, wish it wouldn’t have happened. But it’s not near what we thought it might have been earlier in the morning, because we thought the other bridge also was connected to this bridge in the footing. They’re not, they’re separate, as we learned after that. So we would have been cut off from getting through that route for months. So it’s not as bad, from that standpoint, as it could have been.

So, once you clear the track, you’ll be able to use the other bridge?

Yes.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Follow on Twitter: @josh_wingrove

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