The most recent train derailment in Gogama is the latest example of why more robust tank car standards need to be put in place, the Transportation Safety Board says.
In an interim report on the March 7 derailment released today, the TSB said that until new standards with enhanced protection for all tank cars transporting flammable liquids are implemented for North America, the risk will remain for these cars to tear apart and spill their toxic contents when a train derails.
“Canadians expect their government to ensure that the risks posed by the transportation of flammable liquids are minimized to the greatest extent possible,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB.
“I am reiterating my concern expressed in letters I sent to both the Minister of Transport and the Acting Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the United States in October 2014, in which I urged TC and its U.S. counterparts to adopt the highest possible standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids, and replace or retrofit existing tank cars as soon as practicable so that they meet new standards.”
The derailment on March 7 caused numerous tank cars carrying crude oil to catch fire and spill into a local river system. It destroyed the track and a bridge and caused undetermined environmental damage.
The Canadian government recently proposed tough new standards for rail tank cars used to transport crude oil. The proposal would require the cars to have outer "jackets," a layer of thermal protection, and thicker steel walls.
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- Proposed rail safety laws to make oil carriers responsible for accidents
While the proposed standards look promising, the TSB said it has concerns about the implementation timeline, "given initial observations of the performance of CPC-1232 cars in recent derailments. If older tank cars, including the CPC-1232 cars, are not phased out sooner, then the regulator and industry need to take more steps to reduce the risk of derailments or consequences following a derailment carrying flammable liquids."
Oil shipments moved by Canadian railways went from 500 car loads in 2009 to 160,000 in 2013, according to the Railway Association of Canada.
Track infrastructure failures
There have been three recent CN derailments in northern Ontario, including two along a 40-kilometre stretch of track about an hour south of Timmins.
The TSB report also says that track infrastructure failures may have played a role in each of the Gogama accidents (March 7 and Feb. 14), and the third accident that involved a mixed manifest train on the Ruel Subdivision near Minnipuka, Ont. on March 5.
"Petroleum crude oil unit trains transporting heavily-loaded tank cars will tend to impart higher than usual forces to the track infrastructure during their operation," the report stated.
"These higher forces expose any weaknesses that may be present in the track structure, making the track more susceptible to failure. Given the potential damage of a train derailment, particularly when petroleum crude oil unit trains are involved, the TSB has issued a Safety Advisory Letter calling on TC to review the risk assessments conducted for the Ruel Subdivision, assess the track infrastructure condition and determine whether additional risk control measures are required when operating a 'Key Train' on this 'Key Route'.”