Canadian and U.S. transportation officials will announce new standards for tank cars carrying crude oil and other flammable liquids during a meeting in Washington on Friday morning.
The long-awaited deal is expected to outline time frames for phasing out older, less durable tank cars and transitioning to a "next generation" standard with thicker steel and thermal protection. The changes are meant to help the cars better withstand a derailment and collision while limiting the amount of crude that can spill and ignite.
Canada has already proposed a 10-year phase-in period for the new tank cars, but regulators in the United States have not yet announced their plans. The Canadian proposal has been criticized by safety experts, who say it will leave weaker tank cars on the rails for too long.
Recent fiery derailments in Ontario prompted Canada's Transportation Safety Board to say the proposed timeline is inadequate, and call for more to be done in the interim. However, tank-car suppliers say manufacturers and shops would not be able to meet demand to upgrade or replace tank cars in less than 10 years.
Friday's announcement from U.S. and Canadian regulators comes nearly two years after a disastrous accident in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killed 47 people and flattened several city blocks. Ottawa and Washington have issued a number of new regulations since that time, covering speed limits, emergency planning and other issues, but safety experts say a more co-ordinated approach will be needed.
The so-called "next-generation" tank-car standard that Ottawa has proposed includes thicker steel, thermal protection, full shields at both ends and more protection over the valves. The changes are meant to help the cars better withstand a derailment and collision, limiting the amount of crude that can spill and ignite.
Transport Canada has previously said that it plans to introduce new braking requirements for some trains, suggesting that Friday's announcement could also address braking systems.
Safety experts have called for the introduction of electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, an idea some railways and rail car manufacturers oppose. Keith Creel, chief operating officer at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., said recently that ECP brakes are expensive and represent a dubious improvement in safety.
It is also possible that the two transport officials will announce harmonization of the speed limits imposed on trains carrying dangerous goods. Both countries have announced similar speed restrictions in recent weeks, with the U.S. mandating speed limits of 40 miles per hour (64 kilometres per hour) for some dangerous-goods trains when they move through what regulators call "high threat urban areas." Several days after the U.S. announcement, Canadian regulators issued an emergency order requiring trains to slow down to 40 miles per hour or less when carrying dangerous goods through highly urbanized areas.
Railways do not own the cars they haul, but are liable for damages if an accident occurs. For that reason, they have lobbied for tougher tank car rules that are less likely to rupture and catch fire in a derailment.
With a report from Eric Atkins in Toronto