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editorial

Firefighters arrive near the scene after a train derailment near Gogama, Ont., Saturday, March 7, 2015. Crews are continuing their efforts today to put out a fire caused when a CN Rail train hauling crude oil derailed in northern Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ontario Provincial PoliceThe Canadian Press

When the federal government announced bulked-up rail-safety measures last fall, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said, "Canadians are never going to forget what happened in Lac-Mégantic."

The oil-fuelled fireball that claimed 47 lives in 2013 scarred our national consciousness, but Ms. Raitt's words would carry more heft if oil-ferrying trains didn't keep exploding on her watch. On Monday, firefighters wrestled with burning cars after a derailment near Gogama, Ont., about 600 kilometres north of Toronto. The rest of us are grappling with questions, such as: Weren't updated safety requirements for tanker cars and a stouter inspections regime supposed to make the booming oil-by-rail trade vastly safer for Canadian communities?

They haven't, apparently. The weekend accident is the second major derailment in the Gogama area in three weeks. It adds to harrowing post-Mégantic conflagrations in Plaster Rock, N.B., and Gainford, Alta., and a slew of other calamities all over North America. Ms. Raitt said she's very concerned by the latest mishap; perhaps she'll heed the appeals from the Ontario government, among others, to move more boldly.

The federal government can't be charged with inaction – Ms. Raitt and her department have worked diligently – but that doesn't mean there has been sufficient action.

All indications are that the Gogama train complied with the latest federal regulations. But standards for robust new bulk oil cars won't be unveiled until April, and likely won't be applied for months. That's partly the fault of bureaucratic foot-dragging in the U.S. However blame is to be apportioned, more urgency is required.

For example, Canadian authorities ought to determine whether sludgy Alberta bitumen is as volatile and combustible as Bakken shale crude (a shipment of which blew up Lac-Mégantic's downtown). There appears to be a widespread assumption it is not; the people of Gogama might tell you otherwise.

Officials in North Dakota have worked to identify precisely what makes shale oil so explosive and will soon introduce filtration measures to make it more stable. North of the border, no such processes appear forthcoming.

Pipelines may be politically and environmentally problematic, but they are demonstrably safer than rail cars. Ottawa would be wise to thaw its diplomatic relations with a White House that is opposing the Keystone XL project.