Canada, U.S. agencies urge fast action on oil-by-rail safety

Posted by Randall Palmer & Louise Egan - Reuters Canada

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – North American regulators should phase out the type of rail car involved in last July’s deadly Lac-Megantic crash “sooner rather than later,” Canadian investigators said on Thursday, urging the United States and Canada to impose tougher standards swiftly.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued three recommendations each, adding pressure on regulators to improve safety on the tracks after a series of oil-by-rail accidents in recent months.

Neither the TSB nor the NTSB have the power to impose regulations, which only the U.S. and Canadian governments can put in place.

“A long and gradual phase-out of older cars simply isn’t good enough,” TSB Chairwoman Wendy Tadros said at an Ottawa news conference. “The period in which that phase-out happens is something we’re going to leave to regulators, but we’re saying this should be happening sooner rather than later.”

Government officials in both countries said on Thursday they viewed the recommendations as a matter of urgency.

The oil that exploded in the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, derailment, which caused an explosion and fire that killed 47 people, was carried in DOT-111 tanker cars that pre-dated tougher new safety standards for that type of car that were introduced in October 2011.

While DOT-111 cars built since 2011 comply with new requirements, tens of thousands of older ones remain in service, and shipping oil by rail has grown exponentially as the industry discovers and extracts crude deposits in areas such as the Bakken region of North Dakota, where pipelines are scarce.

“The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” said NTSB Chairwoman Deborah Hersman. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

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