Canada's transportation safety board says new standards for oil tank cars should come sooner

TORONTO – Canada needs to implement tougher standards for oil trains earlier than a 2025 target, the transportation safety board said Tuesday.

The government proposed tougher standards for tank cars this month in response to a string of fiery crashes. The new proposal would require the cars to have a layer of thermal protection and thicker steel walls. It said the new standards should be phased in by 2025.

But in a report about a fiery March 7 derailment in northeastern Ontario, the Transportation Safety Board said the target date isn’t soon enough.

“The standard looks promising but we do have questions about the timeline because they’re talking about 10 years,” Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB, said in a telephone interview. “We want to understand the rationale.”

The March 7 CN oil train derailment was the third derailment in Northern Ontario in a little over a month, renewing concerns about the safety of shipping crude oil by train and further suggesting that new safety requirements for tank cars carrying flammable liquids are inadequate. The safety board said all the cars had been retrofitted with protective shields to meet a higher safety standard.

The new standard was enacted after 47 people were killed when an oil train derailed in July 2013 in the centre of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. But tank cars carrying crude that meet the new standard continue to derail and catch fire throughout North America.

Fox said the current tank cars are just not strong enough. She said another Lac Megantic disaster doesn’t have to be inevitable if steps are taken while the current models are phased out. Lower speeds and improved track inspection and maintenance are among those, she said.

A U.S. Transportation Department analysis predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage.

The White House budget office is reviewing a draft proposal for a sturdier tank car design, as well as other safety proposals. U.S. and Canadian officials have been working closely together to co-ordinate the regulations since the tank cars move back and forth across the border.

Zach Segal, a spokesman for Canada’s transport minister, said Canada is “in discussion with the U.S. on the soonest that retrofits and replacements” to the existing tank cars can “practicably happen.”