Canada Proposes New Standards for Tank Cars Rail Crashes

Canada is proposing new safety rules for tank cars amid concern that a surge in crude-by-rail shipments may lead to more accidents such as this week’s derailment of a Canadian National Railway Co. freight train.

New DOT-111 tank cars would need to be built with thicker steel and offer top fitting and head shield protection, under requirements proposed in the online edition of the Canada Gazette. Railroads would also be required to keep records on how they classify dangerous goods and document the sampling method for crude oil.

Regulators have raised scrutiny of oil transport by rail in Canada and the U.S. after a spate of explosive accidents including a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. train which derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in July, killing 47 people and incinerating buildings in the town’s center.

Flames from the latest incident -- in which a 122-car Canadian National train jumped the tracks in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick -- are still burning, forcing authorities today to use explosives in a bid to extinguish the blaze more quickly.

“The adoption of the new rail tank car manufacturing requirements, specifically for the DOT-111 tank car, needs to be accelerated because Canada will soon be manufacturing these tank cars, there is an increase in petroleum crude oil transport by rail, and there is a regulatory misalignment causing an administrative burden on industry,” the government said in a statement posted on the Canada Gazette.

Comment Period

Railroads and other stakeholders will have 30 days to comment on the proposed regulations before they are finalized, Transport Canada said in a statement.

Train shipments of crude pumped in Western Canada and the U.S. Midwest are projected to double to 2 million barrels a day in the next year, up from 1 million a day in the first nine months of 2013. U.S. government data show that as oil output has surged, so have crude-related train incidents, which were up 12-fold from 2010 to 2013.

On Dec. 30, fire engulfed tank cars loaded with oil on a Burlington Northern Santa Fe LLC train after a collision west of Fargo, North Dakota, forcing more than 2,000 residents to flee the flames.

DOT-111 models account for about 69 percent of the U.S. tank car fleet, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said in a 2012 letter to regulators that the model had a “high incidence of tank failures during accidents.”

Tank Cars

Authorities in New Brunswick ordered about 150 people to be evacuated from a 2-kilometer (1.6 mile) zone around the derailment site. The explosions are aimed at speeding up combustion and allowing residents to return to their homes, New Brunswick’s provincial government said today in a statement.

Canadian National’s train was carrying five cars of crude oil and four cars of propane, Chief Executive Officer Claude Mongeau said Jan. 8 at a televised press conference in Plaster Rock. Three cars, two loaded with propane and one with crude, caught fire after the derailment, Jim Feeny, a company spokesman, said yesterday.

Investigators found a cracked wheel near the front of the derailed train and a broken rail, Guy Laporte, lead investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said yesterday at a televised news conference in Plaster Rock. He said it’s too early to pinpoint the exact cause of the crash.

No one was injured in the accident.

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