Transport Canada proposed new federal regulations for a safer standard of rail tank car this week, as a House of Commons committee tabled recommendations for improving safety around the transportation of dangerous goods. 

The proposed regulations will give shippers until 2025 to upgrade rail tank cars, a transition that would come almost 30 years after serious deficiencies in the fleet were first identified.

Shippers will be required to upgrade tank cars to a standard called TC-117, making them more resistant to punctures and valve failures in the case of derailment or collisions.

The standard includes improved shields at the top of the tank car to better cover the pressure release valve from damage in a derailment. A full shield to protect both ends of a tank car from puncture would also become mandatory.

A thermal shell to better shield tank cars from fire would also become mandatory and steel used to build the cars would be thickened.

The changes all flow from the deadly crash of an unmanned oil train in Lac-Megantic, Que., in July 2013 that claimed 47 lives and incinerated the town's downtown core.

But concerns over the old DOT-111 tank car — the workhorse of the North American fleet — date back to at least 1996, when the Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported that "in general, Class 111A tank cars do not have sufficient protection against punctures, even in a low-speed impact, due to the thinness of the tank shell and the absence of a head shield."

The proposed changes come as the House of Commons transport committee released a report today on the transportation of dangerous goods and Canada's safety regime.

New recommendations

The committee's report, published online and unveiled at a news conference in Ottawa, makes 10 recommendations, over half of which are aimed directly at rail transport. 

The first recommendation is that Transport Canada "ensure that it has an adequate number" of inspectors for its oversight role over dangerous goods and overall rail safety. The report does not suggest a specific number.  

Currently, Transport Canada employs 117 rail safety inspectors and 88 dangerous goods inspectors, according to committee member Jeff Watson, an Ontario MP who spoke at the news conference this morning. 

The report also recommends all DOT-111 tank cars currently in use meet "enhanced standards," and these enhancements, as well as the phase-in of the TC-117 tank cars, be harmonized with the United States because of the "North American character" of the railway system. 

The U.S. has so far declined to lay out a timeline for replacing DOT-111 tank cars, however, and has not publicly committed to such a move. Watson, the MP for the Windsor-area riding of Essex, said this morning that federal Transport Minster Lisa Raitt is in talks with her American counterpart, but no concrete agreements have been established. 

Similarly, the report recommends that Transport Canada implement on-board voice and video recording devices on trains, a move that rail worker unions have vehemently opposed in the past. 

String of recent derailments

A booming oil-by-rail business and a number of high-profile derailments have compounded the danger over the last five years.

In the last month alone, four trains carrying crude oil have derailed in Canada and the United States, sparking major fires, polluting waterways and forcing some evacuations.

There have been three recent CN Rail derailments in northern Ontario, including two along a stretch of track about an hour south of Timmins, near the village of Gogama.

A CN train also derailed Wednesday evening near the Manitoba community of Gregg, about 50 kilometres east of Brandon. CN spokesman Brent Kossey said there were no reports of injuries but provided no information on what cargo was in the derailed cars.

With files from The Canadian Press