Regulators in U.S., Canada come together in bid to boost rail safety
Canada's TSB, U.S. NTSB make three recommendations to improve safety of oil-by-rail operations
OTTAWA—Safety regulators north and south of the border have issued a joint call for improved safety and oversight as more crude oil is moved by rail in Canada and the United States.
In what its calling “an unprecedented move,” the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has come together with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to issue recommendations to governments in both countries to boost the safety of moving crude oil in North America, including reinforcing the TSB’s call for improved route and emergency planning.
The independent federal agency and its U.S. counterpart are also calling for improved safety standards for DOT-111—also known as Class 111—tanker cars, the same ones involved in the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., last summer that killed an estimated 47 people.
“In the course of our Lac-Megantic investigation, we found three critical weaknesses in the North American rail system which must be urgently addressed,” Wendy Tadros, chair of the Canadian TSB, said in a joint statement from the two agencies.
“Today we are making three recommendations calling for tougher standards for Class 111 tank cars; route planning and analysis; and emergency response assistance plans.”
Made to both Transport Canada and the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the first recommendation calls for tougher standards for DOT-111 tank cars—not just newly manufactured ones.
In the Lac-Megantic investigation, the TSB said it found that even at low speeds, the older, unprotected DOT-111 tank cars ruptured, releasing crude oil which fuelled the fire.
The second recommendation calls for strategic route-planning and safer train operations for all trains carrying dangerous goods in Canada.
The TSB said it wants railway operators “to carefully choose the routes on which oil and other dangerous goods are to be carried, and to make sure train operations over those routes will be safe.”
Measures can include a maximum allowable speed for trains carrying dangerous goods and a minimum level for class of track.
For the third recommendation, the TSB said it wants to see emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs) along routes where large volumes of liquid hydrocarbons are being shipped.
“The right resources must be in place to reduce the severity and impact of a spill or fire,” the TSB said.
With the amount of crude oil being shipped by rail in North America growing exponentially—560,000 carloads in Canada and the U.S. in 2013 after only a combined 11,300 in 2009, according to industry estimates—the agencies thought it was right to come together because of the “interconnected” nature of railways in the two countries.
“If North American railways are to carry more and more of these flammable liquids through our communities, it must be done safely,” Tadros said. “Change must come and it must come now.”