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Canada Bans Thousands of Old Crude Rail Tank Cars

While it has a phase-out process running into 2017 for old (DOT-111) rail tank cars that carry crude oil, Canada's Transport Department (CTD) has accelerated the process by banning nearly 3,000 of the older model cars from carrying "dangerous goods" throughout the nation.

The transportation agency, the equivalent to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), has ruled that 2,879 of the tank cars are not safe enough to continue carrying shipments of oil, chemicals or other explosive materials.

CTD issued a 30-day deadline to rail operators last April to stop using certain types of DOT-111 tank cars that were deemed to be least resistant to crashes, saying the cars needed to be refitted with thicker steel and stronger reinforcement over the next three years or face being decommissioned for crude shipments.

DOT-111 railcars were carrying crude in July 2013 when a train derailed causing an explosion that killed 47 people in the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic (see Shale Daily, July 9, 2013). It was subsequently determined that more than 5,000 of the rail tank cars without reinforced bottoms were still operating in North America, nearly 3,000 of them in Canada.

Since then, CTD has taken further measures, including

  • Removing the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service;
  • Introducing new safety standards for DOT-111 tank cars, and requiring those that do not meet the new standards to be phased out by May 1, 2017;
  • Requiring railway companies to slow trains transporting dangerous goods and introduce other key operating procedures;
  • Requiring emergency response plans for even a single tank car carrying crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, and ethanol; and
  • Creating a task force that brings municipalities, first responders, railways, and shippers together to strengthen emergency response capacity across the country.

"The department has moved to enhance inspections, documentation, and follow-up for rail safety and transport of dangerous goods," the agency said on its website. "This includes more frequent inspections at sites where petroleum products are transferred from one mode of transport to another, for example from truck to rail."

Early this year, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a series of recommendations calling for tougher standards for rail shipments of crude oil on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border (see Shale Daily, Jan. 23). NTSB and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada issued the recommendations jointly in recognition that the same companies operate crude rail trains in both nations, frequently crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

NTSB called the joint move unprecedented and said it came in response to growing concerns about "major loss of life, property damage and environmental consequences" from the increasingly large volumes of crude oil being carried by railroads in North America.

DOT's Pipeline Hazardous Materials and Safety Administration earlier this year issued new rules dealing with the design of new rail tank cars, maintenance of the rail infrastructure, content of the crude supplies being shipped and notification and training of local emergency response organizations (see Shale Daily, July 24).

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