Municipalities and emergency measures officials rely on properly labelled rail cars so they can properly react to any potential incidents, a senior investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said on Monday.

Donald Ross said last week the crude oil carried in tankers that derailed and ignited in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in July was misidentified as a less volatile substance.

Ross said he cannot confirm whether the proper checks now are being carried out to ensure dangerous goods being transported on railways are identified correctly.

Ross said municipalities require this information about dangerous goods in their communities so they can properly plan for any potential problems.

“I think the obvious thing is to make sure to identify what those products are and what type of hazards and things they need to do to get ready in case … of something unfortunate happening,” Ross said on Monday.

The crude oil in the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train that derailed in Quebec had been listed as Packing Group 3, the least hazardous on the scale.

The oil actually had the properties of a Packing Group 2 substance, which also includes goods like gasoline, that have a lower flash point and will therefore ignite more quickly.

Ross said in an emergency, such as Lac-Mégantic, it would be important for emergency crews to understand what was being transported in their area so they had the appropriate materials, such as fire-fighting foam, available.

“In the general sense, those conversations are normally held in communities. We've been asked ourselves to come and speak to communities about matters in that regard,” he said.

Importer responsible for proper labelling

It's the responsibility of the organization importing dangerous goods to ensure the products are labelled properly.

In the case of the Lac-Mégantic accident, Irving Oil Ltd. was responsible to ensure the descriptions of the products were correct.

Ross said on Monday Irving Oil has been co-operating with the investigation.

Bob van der Valk, the managing editor of the Bakken Oil Business Journal, said last week the misidentification of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in the United States is routine.

The Lac-Mégantic tragedy has sparked demands for better rail safety standards from different municipalities and organizations.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has added its voice to calls for swift federal action on rail safety.

Meanwhile, Rothesay and Quispamsis officials met with local and provincial emergency co-ordinators in August to discuss rail safety in the region.