The Transportation Safety Board says a preliminary assessment shows the tank cars that derailed in Gogama, Ont. on Feb. 14 demonstrate the inadequacy of new standards aimed at preventing oil spills.

A total of 29 cars from a 100-car Canadian National Railway train carrying diluted bitumen crude derailed in the remote area of Ontario, south of Timmins on Feb 14. Oil was spilled amid the snow and caught fire, burning for two days.

"While firefighters dealt with the fire, investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) were able to examine the site and recover a section of broken rail containing a rail joint and a broken wheel, that are of interest," the TSB stated on its website.

"All recovered rail components and the broken wheel were sent to the TSB Engineering Laboratory in Ottawa for further analysis."

Investigators will also take a long look at the derailed cars to compare their performance against the known performance of the legacy Class 111 tank cars that were involved in the Lac-Mégantic, Que. incident.

According to a TSB statement, "Preliminary assessment of the CPC-1232-compliant tank cars involved in this occurrence demonstrates the inadequacy of this standard, given the tank cars' similar performance to the legacy Class 111 tank cars involved in the Lac-Megantic accident.

 "Our initial impressions are that they performed similarly to the cars in Lac-Megantic, or the legacy Class 111 tank cars. So, it just speaks for the need for an improved standard for transporting this class of flammable liquids," the board's manager for central region operations, Rob Johnston, said in an interview with CBC News.

The report said a close examination of the wreckage will determine if those initial impressions are correct.

"Once all remaining product has been removed from the tank cars and they have been cleaned and purged, the TSB will complete a detailed damage assessment of the cars ... This may also include further failure analysis, testing and metallurgical examination at the TSB Engineering Laboratory."

The TSB said it has been pointing out the vulnerability of all Class 111 tank cars for years. It added until a more robust tank car standard is implemented, the risk will remain.

"I think we just have to point back to the watch list and what we've said previously is that there needs to be a more robust standard in place for transporting flammable liquids by rail," said Johnston.

In regards to the Gogama, Ont. derailment, the TSB said its next steps include the following:

  • Examination of rail components and suspect wheel recovered from the derailment site
  • Sampling and testing of product from select cars
  • Review of Wheel Impact Load Detector records for subject train and 2 previous trains
  • Review of all track infrastructure maintenance records for the area
  • Review of CN Engineering Track Standards and cold weather policy
  • Review of TC-approved Track Safety Rules
  • Review and evaluation of ERAP and emergency response
  • Conducting additional interviews as required.

CN Rail reopened the tracks to train traffic late on Feb. 17.