Sweeping rail safety changes unveiled in wake of Lac-Mégantic

Canadian Pacific calls for better regulation on human, behavioural factors

In the wake of the fatal, fiery train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., the federal government is ramping up its rail safety policies.

Prompted by recommendations from a Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report, transport minister Lisa Raitt announced sweeping changes to rail safety regulations at the end of April, effective immediately.

“Transport Canada takes the safety and security of the railway and transportation of dangerous goods systems seriously and is committed to ensuring that appropriate levels of safety are maintained,” said Jana Régimbal, Minister Raitt’s press secretary.

As part of the changes, Transport Canada will remove the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from service. The DOT-111 tankers, considered the quintessential transporter of crude oil and ethanol, have been the focus of the TSB’s spotlight for years — their ambiguities have sounded calls for tighter regulation for years.

Current DOT-111 cars that do not meet the latest safety standards are also to be phased out or refitted within the next three years.

As well, Transport Canada now requires emergency response assistance plans for even a solitary tank car carrying crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel or ethanol. The federal government also intends to create a task force comprised of municipalities, first responders, railways and shippers together to strengthen emergency response capacities.

Finally, railway companies will be required to reduce the speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices.

The move was sparked by a report from the TSB earlier this year, which looked into the causes of the deadly Lac-Mégantic explosion in which 47 people were killed after a runaway train carrying oil derailed.

In it, the TSB recommended railway companies that transport dangerous material be required to conduct route planning and analysis, and an enhanced safety standard for the Class 111 (or DOT-111) tank cars. The board also suggested that emergency response assistance plans be established when large volumes of liquid hydrocarbons are being transported across long distances and through urban areas.

“I am encouraged by the Minister of Transport’s strong response to the board’s recommendations,” said Wendy Tadros, chair of the TSB. “It is my hope these measures will reduce the risks identified in the Lac-Mégantic investigation and improve the safety of Canada’s rail system.”

She added that the TSB will further study, assess and rate Transport Canada’s responses to the recommendations.

One recommendation that came down from the board has yet to be honoured by Ottawa — that rail operators go through route planning ahead of the shipment of dangerous items.

To err is human

While the changes were lauded by industry leaders, heavyweight railway operator Canadian Pacific said the government should take a closer look at human and behavioural factors.

“Canadian Pacific has been a vocal proponent of increased tank care safety standards and we applaud the Minister of Transport’s direction to eliminate the use of older tank cars,” said Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific. “While we comply with all the orders, I must again re-iterate that reducing train speeds does not address the causes of railway accidents, nor is it a solution to rail safety.

“Human behaviours are a significant factor and should be the focus if the goal is to truly improve safety,” he added.

Using inward facing cameras in locomotives to allow for compliance monitoring and instituting programs to reduce grade crossings would be key components to decreasing incidences of crossing accidents, noted the rail company — which is currently in the process of implementing the recommendations from Transport Canada.

As well, in March, Canadian Pacific began working towards upgraded tank car standards for crude-by-rail shipments. That includes introducing a new rate structure for all crude shipments in any car other than the safest car — putting a surcharge on older tank cars.

In Canada, rail safety continues to be regulated under two main pieces of legislation – the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act. Transport Canada issued emergency directives, ministerial orders and protective directions to these laws within the 90-day deadline required by the TSB.

Régimbal added that, under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, rail operators are continually inspected during the import, handling, offering for transport and shipment of dangerous materials, including rail yards.

“Inspectors look to ensure that dangerous goods are properly classified and transported in the proper means of containment manufactured to a Transport Canada-approved standard.

Common risk indicators include accident investigations, safety records and results of previous inspections and safety audits,” she said, adding that immediate enforcement actions will be taken should a particular body not comply. “This action can include detention of a shipment, ticketing or prosecution through the courts.”

While the TSB’s investigation into the Lac-Mégantic disaster remains open, three employees — an engineer, manager and traffic controller — from Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway are currently in the courts, each facing 47 charges of criminal negligence causing death.

Latest stories