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Transportation Safety Board, U.S. counterpart partner on oil-by-rail safety recommendations

A train hauling tanker cars with unknown contents passes through downtown Revelstoke. Retired railroader and current City of Revelstoke councillor Gary Starling said there is cause for concern. During a public event last week featuring Kootenay–Columbia MP David Wilks, Starling called on the federal government to enforce existing safety rules. - Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review file photo
A train hauling tanker cars with unknown contents passes through downtown Revelstoke. Retired railroader and current City of Revelstoke councillor Gary Starling said there is cause for concern. During a public event last week featuring Kootenay–Columbia MP David Wilks, Starling called on the federal government to enforce existing safety rules.
— image credit: Aaron Orlando/Revelstoke Times Review file photo

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the U.S. National Transportation Safety board have issued joint recommendations to improve the safety of transportation of crude oil.

Their Jan. 23 report said the greater risk of transporting “increasingly more” crude oil by rail in North America needs “coordinated solutions.”

Transportation Safety Board (TSB) chair Wendy Tadros emphasized three key points arising from the July, 2012 Lac-Mégantic disaster investigation: “In the course of our Lac-Mégantic investigation, we found three critical weaknesses in the North American rail system which must be urgently addressed,” Tadros said. “Today we are making three recommendations calling for tougher standards for Class 111 tank cars; route planning and analysis; and emergency response assistance plans.”

The report calls for tougher standards for new and existing Class 111 tanker cars.

The second recommendation calls for strategic route planning, and improved operations safety for trains carrying dangerous goods in Canada.

“The TSB wants railways 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,” the TSB said in a Jan. 23 statement.

The third recommendation calls for emergency response assistance plans, or ‘ERAPs,’ to be in place along rail routes where large volumes of oil will be transported.

The report finds that oil by rail shipments have increased very, very dramatically in the past four years.

In Canada in 2009, there were only 500 carloads of crude oil shipped by rail. By 2013, that number jumped manyfold to 160,000 carloads. Over the same period, shipments in the U.S. jumped from 10,800 to 400,000 carloads.

The reports finds better cross-border coordination of oil shipments is needed due to the integrated nature of international oil shipments.

“If North American railways are to carry more and more of these flammable liquids through our communities, it must be done safely,” added Tadros. “Change must come and it must come now.”

The TSB said the ongoing Lac-Mégantic investigation is a “top priority” for the TSB.

Will government heed recommendations?

The Transportation Safety Board is an independent Government of Canada agency responsible for advancing transportation safety in Canada.

However, it’s the federal Transport Canada that regulates rail transport in Canada. Following the TSB Jan. 23 report, federal Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt issued a statement saying Transport Canada officials are “reviewing” the recommendations. The statement also listed other steps the transportation regulator has taken since the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

In Revelstoke, Conservative MP for Kootenay–Columbia David Wilks faced questions on rail safety from current City of Revelstoke councillor Gary Starling at a Jan. 22 luncheon.

In an impassioned speech, the retired railroader said incidents are flying under the radar, and he’s concerned about rail safety.

“My feeling is that it’s deplorable,” Starling said. “The safety on the railways, in my opinion, is being jeopardized. There seems to be a lack of response or lack of willingness by the federal government to enforce the current legislation. I believe it is something that can be fixed without costing a lot of money. I think it’s a matter of just enforcing what’s there.”

Starling said streamlined engineer training program is one concern, as is lack of incident reporting.

“Anybody that lives in a small community like Revelstoke that has the railway running through it, if they’re not concerned, they should be,” Starling said. “The safety rules are in place. All we need is enforcement. That’s all we’re asking for. Enforce the rules.”

Wilks said he can pass on information to the transportation minister. The MP said that ministers can sometimes be “sheltered” from information, but Wilks committed to sit down with Starling to hear his concerns.

 

 

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