New Canada safety chief urges tougher oil-by-rail measures

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The measures announced by Canada this year to boost the safety of shipping oil by rail are a good first step but more must be done, the new head of the country’s Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday.

Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox speaks during a news conference in Ottawa November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Kathy Fox, new chairwoman of the independent federal agency, said Canada and the United States must agree on tougher standards for tanker cars that carry volatile fuels. Shipments of crude by train have soared over the past few years as oil output has increased while pipeline capacity has not.

The dangers of rail transport were demonstrated graphically in July 2013, when a runaway train derailed and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

The federal government said in April 2014 that older DOT-111 model tanker cars such as the ones involved in the Lac-Megantic disaster must be taken off the rails by May 2017, and in October it unveiled new tougher rules for setting handbrakes.

“These are good first steps, they are constructive, but they don’t go far enough,” Fox told a news conference in her first public remarks since taking over the job in late August.

Withdrawal of older tank cars by 2017 means that the only wagons permitted will be those built to 2011 standards, which require reinforced outer shells and partial head shields for protection.

In July, the government said that the next generation of tank cars should be made of thicker steel and require full head shields.

Federal regulators in Canada and the United States are looking at how to fortify the 2011 standards but have not announced any new measures. The rail industry is deeply integrated across the two countries, making it difficult to make unilateral regulatory changes.

“Our concern is that the standards that are in place today (for transporting dangerous goods) are not necessarily rigorous enough and we want them to be strengthened,” Fox said.

The safety board, which is not a regulator and cannot impose standards, also called on railways to carefully choose the routes on which crude oil and dangerous goods are carried and to ensure their safety.

The office of Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was not immediately available for comment.

In August, the safety board said the government had not adequately audited the railway at the center of the Lac-Megantic disaster.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway