Canada’s transportation agency is requiring the type of rail tankers involved in last year's oil train explosion in Quebec to be phased out or retrofitted within three years. The change could affect some shipments in the U.S. — and advocates say federal agencies in Washington should follow suit.
Last July, 47 people were killed and 30 buildings were destroyed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec when an oil train derailed and exploded. On Wednesday, Transport Canada issued new rules in response to recommendations by Canada's Transportation Safety Board in the aftermath of the tragedy.
DOT-111 tanker cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol must be phased out or refitted within three years. Transport Canada is requiring that tanker cars carrying hazardous materials that are not equipped with continuous bottom reinforcement be removed from the rails immediately.
Transport Canada also issued an Emergency Directive mandating a reduction of the speed of trains transporting dangerous goods. It also requires railway companies draft new hazardous materials transport rules.
One of the corridors tanker cars travel is from Montreal south along Lake Champlain, through the eastern Adirondacks to the Port of Albany. Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says the Transport Canada rules set an example for U.S. federal agencies. “What the Canadians did showed the way for the National Rail Administration to require a similar upgrade of rail cars to make our rail shipments safe when they’re transporting flammable crude oil. It really puts the challenge to Washington to take similar steps to make things safe.”
Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowitz praises Transport Canada’s action to set new safety rules. “I think it sets an important precedent for our federal officials to really follow. The trains that come through Canada and then down into New York State hopefully will be safer because they’ve set tighter, safer standards than what apply to the railroads here in the U.S. We are a little concerned: Does the U.S. then become the home to more of these dangerous cars? Other places in the U.S. that don’t have connections to Canadian rail spurs, will they then be the recipients of these dangerous cars?”
Oil companies are moving oil products more aggressively and in greater volumes from mid-continent fields to coastal markets. Iwanowitz says the Canadian move helps spur advocates to pressure U.S. federal agencies. “Oil interests view New York State as a key conduit to market. They will be moving product by train. They’ll be moving it via barge. And there are now proposals to actually create pipelines from Albany down to refineries in New Jersey. So it’s incumbent to ensure that if they’re going to be moving this product through that fedeeral standards be put in place.”
In an email, Canadian Pacific Rail spokesman Ed Greenberg wrote the company “.... has been collaborating with regulators in both Canada and the United States and will continue complying with both federal governments as we work together for an even safer industry. In addition, CP has been taking steps to encourage shippers to invest in upgraded tank car technologies through a surcharge on older tank cars that we are charging shippers. This surcharge covers shippers on both sides of the border.”
The DOT-111 rail car makes up about 70 percent of all tankers on North American tracks.