Ottawa will phase out oil transport in DOT-111 rail tank cars by November

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced today that Ottawa is accelerating one of the safety measures recommended after the deadly rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

Thousands of the cars are still in use, travelling between Canada and the United States

In this 2012 file photo, DOT-111 and AAR-211 class rail tankers pass by in the background as a man works at the Union Pacific rail yard in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Starting in November, tank cars like those involved in the deadly rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. will no longer be allowed to transport oil in Canada, Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau says.

The DOT-111 cars will be phased out for the carrying of oil six months earlier than planned for "non-jacketed" cars — those without a layer of thermal protection — and 16 months earlier than cars with jackets.

By 2025, it will be prohibited to transport any flammable liquids in the cars, Garneau said.

"The Lac-Mégantic tragedy reminds us of the importance of staying vigilant in order to ensure security while transporting dangerous goods across Canada," he said.

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. DOT-111 tanker cars, older models of which are known to puncture or leak during crashes, were involved in the crash. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Garneau said about 28,000 DOT-111 railcars are still in use, travelling between Canada and the United States. He said the cars may be upgraded, used to transport other goods or sold to be scrapped.

Trains coming from the U.S. will be monitored to ensure they comply with the new rules.

Forty-seven people were killed when a train carrying oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013. Garneau said he's visited the town a number of times following the disaster.

"This was a profoundly traumatic experience for the town of Lac-Mégantic, and I really do want to help them move forward and rebuild, and part of that is rebuilding the confidence that municipalities need to have in their railway systems," he said.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau talks about how memories of the Lac Megantic tragedy factored into his decision to move up the timeline on phasing out DOT-111 tankers being able to transport dangerous goods, including crude oil. 1:08

Safety concerns

The use of railcars to transport oil has soared in recent years. Last year, 146,000 shipments of crude oil travelled along the country's tracks.

According to the Transportation Safety Board, the cars don't provide adequate safeguards against fire and increase the risk of explosions.

Accident investigators have said for decades that the DOT-111 railcars are easily punctured or ruptured, even in low-speed impacts.

DOT-111 rail tankers have been criticized for not being secure enough against the risk of fires and explosions. (Associated Press)

A new class of tank car, the TC-117, was unveiled in May 2015 and is described as having a thicker steel hull, thermal protection to increase the ability to withstand fire, a full head shield, protective valve covers and a bottom outlet valve for safety.

"This type of tank car will be much more able to resist puncture," Garneau said.

Garneau said the measures were a concerted effort between Canadian and American authorities as well as the companies that lease the cars. The stakeholders he's spoken to are all on board with the accelerated timeline, he said.

New measures reassuring, but more can be done

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Jean-Guy Cloutier said the decision was a positive one, because oil transported in the DOT-111 railcars presents a "danger to the entire population."

Robert Bellefleur, spokesman for the Lac-Mégantic citizens' coalition for rail safety, noted that the railcars will still be able to transport dangerous substances.

"I know it's a step in the right direction, but it's late. The Transportation Safety Board has been recommending this for the last two years," he said.

Bromont, Que., Mayor Pauline Quinlan, speaking on behalf of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said the changes that have been made are reassuring, but that there is room for improvement when it comes to inspections and emergency preparedness in case of disaster.​

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre praised Garneau, saying moving up the schedule is great news.

"I think that what we need to send as a message is that when we're talking about safety we're not just going to talk about it … we have to walk the talk," he said.

The Railway Association of Canada, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific also applauded the move.

With files from The Canadian Press