The Canadian government has issued new rules that will force railroads and hazardous cargo shippers to phase out within three years the type of puncture-prone, older-model tank car that was involved in last summer’s deadly train crash in Quebec.
Under the rules, up to 65,000 DOT-111 tank cars currently in service throughout North America will be banned from carrying oil, ethanol, and other flammable liquids on tracks in Canada on May 1, 2017. The tankers will have to be retrofitted with thicker steel walls and other protections or replaced by the newest, most secure model of tanker.
Other new measures include the requirement for rail companies to provide emergency response plans to local municipalities and fire departments within 150 days and immediate speed restrictions for trains passing through populated areas.
The actions stem from recommendations made by Canada’s Transportation Safety Board after its investigation of the July 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in which 47 people died in a fire ignited by crude oil spilled from a derailed train.
“This is decisive action. This is what people who have been following what happened in Lac-Mégantic want to see, and this is what we’re delivering,” says Lisa Raitt, Canada’s transport minister.
Canada’s new rules add to the pressure on U.S. regulators to address the same problem. The White House Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs just began reviewing a rail safety proposal drafted by the Department of Transportation that includes options for improving the design of DOT-111 tank cars. A final rule is not expected until next year.
Large oil spills and fires from derailments, including one last week in Lynchburg, Va., underscore that the tank car problem isn’t limited to one side of the border. The oil industry is increasingly using rail to transport crude because of the lack of pipelines in new production areas, such as the Bakken field in North Dakota.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, says any tank car design changes must be supported by available data. Retrofitting the existing fleet could top $3 billion, according to industry estimates.