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CP’s Harrison pushes for big shift in rail safety

CP chief Hunter Harrison says he is bound by law to move any product on any government-approved rail car at the request of shippers.


The head of Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. called for an immediate ban of the type of older rail cars that exploded in the Lac-Mégantic disaster and suggested that trains will become more attractive targets for terrorists if rail companies are forced to tell the public what dangerous goods they are carrying.

Hunter Harrison said in a Calgary speech that he would like to ban so-called DOT-111 tank cars made before 2011, before stricter manufacturing standards came into place. Those cars ruptured and blew up when an oil-laden train derailed at high speed in the Quebec town last summer, killing 47 people.

"So what should we do with them? Stop them tomorrow. Don't wait to study. We know the facts," Mr. Harrison said. "You know what this comes down to? And I hate to tell you this: The almighty dollar. Who is going to pay for this?"

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CP and its chief rival Canadian National Railway Co. are at the centre of the oil-by-rail debate in Canada.

Energy companies are increasingly turning to railways to move oil because of the shortage of pipeline capacity in North America, as well as the ability of trains to reach more destinations. In the Lac-Mégantic case, CP transported the oil from North Dakota to Montreal, where the Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway picked up the train in order to deliver it to Irving Oil's refinery in New Brunswick.

The devastating explosion has led to increased regulation on rail shipments and new procedures at the railways. Mr. Harrison said the accident is attributable to a cascading series of mistakes. "[It] wasn't that they didn't set any brakes [on that train] – they didn't set adequate brakes. Plus it was on the side of a hill. Every mistake that could be made was made. You know, you leave a train on the side of a hill, you don't set the brakes – it's a comedy of errors."

The federal government is still reviewing regulations, hoping to make it safer to haul oil and similar products on the rails, and Mr. Harrison said CP was in compliance with the law with respect to the Lac-Mégantic accident.

He said CP has no choice but to move commodities like explosive propane and crude if customers want it to. As long as regulations allow those goods to be shipped by rail, the railway is bound by law to move the products on any government-approved rail car, on any route that shippers request.

Tank cars built after October, 2011, must meet higher safety standards than their predecessors. However, the older DOT-111 cars can be revamped to make them safer. Reinforced outer shells and protective shields are among the enhanced safety features. Mr. Harrison said CP is ready to take the lead on getting the dangerous cars off the rails.

"I've offered. I've said: 'Look, we'll retrofit our fair share of cars. We'll open the shop. I'll create more jobs. We'll fix the damn tank cars – and make a safer Canada.'"

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Mr. Harrison also believes Canadians would be safer if the government held off on proposals to force railway companies to disclose what products they are shipping. Oil is not the most dangerous product railway companies ship, he said, and telling the public what trains are carrying, as well as when and where, is risky.

"You know what scares me the most out of this? And I hesitate to even mention it. Third-party issues," he said. "Have you ever thought about, couldn't this information [fall] in the hands of the wrong people?

"The Internet is scary. Don't know how to derail a train? Look it up. Don't know how to build a bomb? Look it up," he said. "One of my worst nightmares … is terrorists. So if you want that information [on dangerous goods], we'll give it to you. Be sure you want it and you need it and you're going to act effectively with it."

Mr. Harrison also said the company is considering selling real estate worth roughly $2-billion.

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About the Author

Carrie Tait joined the Globe in January, 2011, mainly reporting on energy from the Calgary bureau. Previously, she spent six years working for the National Post in both Calgary and Toronto. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario and a bachelor’s degree in political studies from the University of Saskatchewan. More


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