(photo credit, Transportation Safety Board)
On February 23rd 2015, the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport Canada, announced amendments to the Safe and Accountable Rail Act that aims to raise the accountability of rail safety among rail companies. Among those recommendations regarding trains carrying dangerous goods include a minimum two person locomotive crew and a directive that requires all railway companies to adopt minimum key operating practices such as speed restrictions.
According to Sault Ste. Marie MP, Bryan Hayes, the Federal government has also decried more stringent inspection requirements along railroads and increased rail assessment along rail transportation routes.
“There are certain things that the government has implemented since the tragic derailment in Lac Megantic,” expressed Hayes. “As a result of that accident Transport Canada has raised the maximum penalties to companies to $1 million if found breaking regulations. Rail safety is a partnership between the government and the companies. We have responsibility in making sure that we have adequate inspectors and adequate regulations. The carriers themselves also have a huge responsibility here as well. The number one concern is the safety of Canadians. We take that seriously and have put a number of items in place to ensure safety.”
In light of the three train derailments in Northern Ontario in less than a month’s time, and of most recent the derailment of 38 cars carrying Alberta crude oil that jumped the tracks on March 7th in Gogama, Hayes expressed some frustration regarding the accountability of the rail companies.
“I want to emphasize that there is an onus on the rail companies,” said Hayes. “Companies need to put in place a safety management system. The auditor general conducted a study in 2013 with respect to rail safety and he provided recommendations. Transport Canada and the government is honouring those recommendations. But it is significantly important that rail companies are being held accountable.”
In April 2014 the federal Government responded to recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board by removing the least crash resistant railway car (DOT-111). “We’re implementing the safety of cars carrying crude oil. And we’re also working very closely with our US counterparts to increase rail safety throughout North America,” added Hayes.
In an email to the Northern Hoot from Transport Canada, spokesperson Ben Stanford, writes of the DOT-111, “These are the tank cars that are not equipped with continuous bottom reinforcement, posing a higher risk of failure in a derailment. The least resistant tank cars in North America that can no longer be used for dangerous goods service can be repurposed to transport non-dangerous goods in Canada.”
Regarding the improvements of tank cars and cross border collaboration Stanford continues, “Transport Canada, in collaboration with the U.S., is currently developing a next generation standard of tank car for the transport of flammable liquids that would be more robust than the CPC-1232.
On July 18, 2014, Transport Canada began consultations on a new class of flammable liquid tank cars, DOT-117 (TC-140), to replace the TP14877/CPC1232 tank cars. The new proposed tank car would include thicker steel than the TP14877/CPC1232 tank car (9/16th of an inch) and require the tank cars to manufactured as a jacketed, thermally insulated tank car with a full head shield, top fitting protection and new bottom outlet valve.
Consultations on the proposed tank car continue. Transport Canada has been working with its U.S. counterparts through ongoing technical discussions to harmonize North American requirements for the tank car standard. This work is being conducted in an expedited manner.”
In a recent interview with CBC news, Doug Finnson, president of the Teamsters Rail Conference of Canada, which represents CN workers stated, “These trains are likely too long, too heavy and going too fast for the track conditions in place.”
Finnson said he hopes the investigation reports will shift the focus away from the design of the oil tankers.
“You have a tank car going 60 miles an hour and it derails. I don’t care how thick the end of the tank car is, bad things are going to happen.”
Finson said he believes stronger government oversight of rail companies is key to keeping Canadians safe and railroads should either be forced to fix their tracks or slow down their trains.
During this weeks’ interview with the Northern Hoot, Hayes raises the question about moving dangerous goods via rail. “The number of trains moving flammable type substances, especially petroleum type products, has increased tenfold in the last number of years. I think in part that makes an argument for the pipeline. They have been proven to be efficient in terms of safety records and I think, ultimately, we need to get those cars off the track. I think the pipeline system will resolve those issues when all is said and done.”
In a statement to CBC news, Stan Beardy, the Ontario regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, said, “When we talk about the transporting of dangerous goods, like crude oil, through First Nations territories there has to be safeguards to make sure that the way of life of First Nations people is protected and intact as much as possible. We are tired of being pawns in Canada’s addiction to oil.”
Beardy went on to express that “the right to practice traditional lifestyles such as hunting, fishing and trapping are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution but you need healthy animals, healthy birds, healthy fish. If they’re contaminated then someone is violating that constitutional right.”
Sault Ste. Marie MPP and Minister of Government and Consumer Services, David Orazietti, would agree that moving dangerous goods along the tracks is a concern. “Clearly we shouldn’t be moving crude oil via rail unless there are safety standards that would allow for those goods to be moved safely,” commented Orazietti earlier this week.
Orazietti also shared Hayes sentiment that the rail companies need to be held responsible for derailments but he tore a strip off the federal governments for their “lack of willingness to significantly increase the maintenance, infrastructure standards and safety requirements of the rail companies”.
“Ultimately what the feds are allowing rail companies to do is put their company’s profits ahead of public safety and that is unacceptable,” stated Orazietti. “Given the seriousness of these most recent derailments, and of all derailments, and the potential of loss of life and devastation to communities anywhere in Ontario, there is a very real concern about the infrastructure and rail maintenance of these rail lines by the companies.”
Orazietti continued, “However, it is fine for federal representatives to suggest that it’s CN’s or CP’s fault- and I agree, it’s their responsibility, but it’s the federal government’s responsibility to make the rules and regulations to establish the safety standards. These companies have clearly demonstrated that they will not voluntarily comply with higher standards. I think the federal government has been missing in action on ramping up the standards and safety requirements that these companies should be required to follow. And the government has really has allowed them to put their profits ahead of public safety. And I think that’s unacceptable.
Referring to amendments to the Safe and Accountable Rail Act requiring rail companies carrying dangerous goods to hold at least $1 billion in liability Orazietti stated, “That’s already what they carry. This is legislation that is enforcing a practice that is already standard among rail companies. If what happened in Lac Megantic happened in a larger area this amount of insurance wouldn’t be sufficient. Insurance is only a curative end to this sort of thing. It’s the prevention that really needs to be the focus. And that needs to come in the form of improved regulatory safety standards that compels the companies to ensure that the tracks are maintained and that the public safety is first and foremost.”
The Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the cause of the Gogama derailment but have ruled out operator error. It is still unclear how much oil was spilled when two rail cars landed in the Mattagami River system.
According to Orazietti, the Minister of Climate Change will be present in Gogama this weekend. “We’ll take all steps we can provincially to ensure that the rail company is held to the highest standard of the law and that the clean ups will be done thoroughly and in a way that meets the highest environmental standards.