Citing the railway system's "vulnerability" to sabotage or terrorist attack, the federal government is introducing new security regulations for trains carrying dangerous goods.
Under the proposed regulations, Canadian rail carriers will be required to inspect cars carrying dangerous cargo "for signs of tampering or suspicious items." Both carriers and consignors will also have to introduce mandatory security training for staff and develop risk-management plans.
"Though there have been no successful attacks in Canada, terrorist groups have committed numerous deadly attacks using dangerous goods in other parts of the world, which have highlighted the vulnerability of the system," Transport Canada notes in the proposed regulations, published in the Canada Gazette on Friday.
Each year, roughly 30 million shipments of dangerous goods – from ammonia to petroleum – travel throughout Canada. Roughly a quarter of these shipments travel by rail. Transport Canada currently has voluntary agreements with a number of carriers around the security of dangerous goods, but no consistent regulations across the industry.
The new regulations are expected to affect about 40 carriers and 1,500 consignors in Canada, costing small railway companies about $2,500 a year and large railway companies about $200,000 a year. The total 10-year, $18-million regulatory cost is expected to be spread fairly broadly – $3.43-million for carriers, $6.19-million for consignors, and $8.36-million for Transport Canada.
The Railway Association of Canada, which represents carriers such as CP Rail and CN Rail, is reviewing the proposed regulations and could not offer further comment, spokesperson Alex Paterson said.
In introducing the regulations, Transport Canada has no specific threats in mind, according to the gazetted regulations. But "there are heightened concerns about the potential threat posed by individuals who subscribe to extremist ideologies."
"Terrorist organizations are increasingly looking at targets of opportunity, as they find themselves increasingly constrained," said Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University.
"There's also been some imaginative thinking in several of the manuals of several terrorist groups about the potentials for causing a really precipitous disaster, like a major hazmat [hazardous material] incident, by sabotaging trains," said John C. Thompson, former president of the Mackenzie Institute, a Toronto-based think tank focusing on security and terrorism.
"Of course we had the Via Rail train plot here, which was also a throwback to 19th-century thinking about derailing a train in a critical spot," he added, referring to a foiled 2013 plot that resulted in two men receiving life sentences for terrorism-related charges.
Both Mr. Mack and Mr. Thompson agreed, however, that the new regulations are more a matter of the government doing due diligence, rather than responding to immediate threats.
"We're always having to shore up defences, but it's nice to be able to do it at our leisure, instead of in the reaction to the aftermath of an incident that has occurred here," said Mr. Thompson.
The regulations do follow on the heels of the 2013 Lac Megantic explosion, which killed 47 people, and prompted the introduction of newer train cars and regulatory changes around safety equipment and employee training. More recently, a train derailment and fire near the northern Ontario town of Gogama in 2015 prompted a report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada that recommended, among other things, slower top speeds for trains carrying dangerous goods.
"Though these incidents were safety-related, they also highlighted the security risks," notes Transport Canada. "It is necessary to implement a timely baseline security regime for the transportation of dangerous goods by rail, given recent events which have shown the impact that rail incidents involving dangerous goods can have on public safety, the environment and the economy."
The proposed regulations bring Canada more in line with U.S. rail regulation, "to make it easier for industry to do business on both sides of the border," according to Transport Canada. However, the regulations stop short of the more stringent U.S. requirements around securing the chain of custody for dangerous goods and reporting location and shipping data to the federal government.
The proposed regulations are now in a 30-day review period. Once they come into effect, companies will have three months to introduce security inspections, and between nine and 12 months to bring in new training and security plans.