Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says she plans to hold talks with her counterpart in the United States this fall about safety concerns with the DOT-111 tanker cars commonly used to haul oil across the country.
Worries about the safety of the rail cars have deepened since 47 people were killed in July when a runaway train carrying crude oil crashed in Lac-Mégantic, Que. The older model cars, which still make up a majority of the fleet in North America, have been criticized as more prone to puncture during accidents than those being manufactured now.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, Ms. Raitt said she spoke about the tank cars with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx after the accident in Lac-Mégantic and expects to continue those discussions later this fall. The U.S. Department of Transportation says it is looking at new regulations to "enhance the standards" for the tank cars.
"We'll talk about [DOT-111 cars] specifically because that's an issue that we can only solve between our two countries, because of the nature of the rail, and because of the nature of the cars [moving] between both countries," Ms. Raitt said. "You can't have a regulation in one country and not in the other."
Two years ago, manufacturers began producing sturdier tankers with double walls, front and rear shields and better ventilation systems. Canadian Pacific Railway chief executive Hunter Harrison told The Globe and Mail last month that he believes a shift to the newer tanker cars was stalled by petroleum and chemical producers and other shippers, who own most of the tankers in North America.
Ms. Raitt said the government is responding to the concerns about the older model of tankers. "We take it really seriously because we want to make sure that the cars are as safe as they can be with technology and innovation that we have," she said.
During the summer, Transport Canada adopted five emergency recommendations to increase staffing on trains and revise safety practices for parking trains carrying hazardous goods. And Ms. Raitt issued a protective direction last week calling on the industry to test crude oil before it is transported, identify it properly, and share the results with Transport Canada.
Asked whether railways would be allowed to move back to one-person crews in the future, Ms. Raitt said she expects that staffing levels will remain at a minimum of two.
"To answer the question from my point of view, no," she said. "I'm sure there are companies out there who may want to make that case to Transport Canada. But I'm very clear with where I want to see it going, that it will be entrenched in regulations."
The federal government indicated in its throne speech that railways will have to carry additional insurance – a response to the fact that Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, whose train crashed in Lac-Mégantic, lacked adequate insurance to deal with the cost of the environmental clean-up.
Municipalities want more information about what kinds of dangerous goods are moving through their communities so local first responders are better prepared to deal with accidents. Ms. Raitt met earlier this week with municipal and rail representatives and has said she will continue to involve both sides in talks about rail safety. "In a lot of cases, these communities exist because of the proximity to a rail line, and they utilize the rail line for their own services and trade," she said before the meeting. "So you have to make sure that when a rail line and a community are in close contact like that, that things are done as safely as possible."