The federal government is ordering the 5,000 most dangerous tank cars off the rails as it adopts the major rail safety recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board in the wake of the tragedy last summer in Lac-Mégantic. Que.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says the immediate measures will take care of the most vulnerable of the older model tank cars, known as DOT-111, while those carrying crude oil and ethanol must be phased out or retrofitted within three years.
"We are immediately removing the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service by directing the phase-out of tank cars that have no continuous reinforcement of their bottom shell in 30 days," Raitt said.
Rail carriers will also be required to prepare emergency response assistance plans for shipments of all petroleum products, including everything for crude oil to diesel.
Emergency response is to be improved across the country through a task force involving municipalities, first responders, railways and shippers.
The new safety regulations come as welcome news to Brandon Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria), who has long been an advocate for rail safety.
"You can’t have enough safety for our community, for all of Canada," Blight said.
Both CN and CP Rail pass through Brandon on a regular basis, often with dangerous goods.
"Hauling oil, ammonia … we have to be careful and making sure that they’re handled accordingly," Blight said.
"We’ve got to make sure not only the tankers but also the tracks, that they’re running are in good order."
The topic of rail safety was discussed at the Brandon City Council meeting earlier this week, as councillors passed a resolution to support Operation Lifesaver and Public-Rail Safety Week from April 28 to May 4.
"I really like the direction that (the federal government) is going in," Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. "Municipalities all across Canada, through (the Federation of Canadian Municipalities), have been lobbying for increased co-operation and communication … and I think that the regulations … certainly reflect that."
Calling the regulations a "good first step," Decter Hirst said she is particularly pleased to see how quickly the federal government will address the DOT-111 tank cars. However, she says there is still more that needs to be looked at when it comes to rail safety.
"I’ve been following along with the growing frustration of the length of trains that are crossing railroad crossings," she said.
The mayor said the city needs to work co-operatively with CN and CP Rail to regulate the length of the trains because of the disruption that they pose — not just in terms of inconvenience but also safety.
"If we have ambulances or fire trucks on the wrong side of a long train … it is a big concern for emergency services and for the City of Brandon."
Brandon is one of many communities across the country pushing for "greater safety protocols," she added.
"When they’re looking at establishing some of the safety equipment in communities along the rail line … we’re going be working to ensure that Brandon is one of those stations," she said.
"I think our central location in western Manitoba and … being adjacent to the oilpatch, it would make good sense to locate some of that specialized safety equipment and training here in the city."
Raitt said there will be changes to insurance rules so that in the event of an accident there will be enough money available to cover compensation and cleanup costs.
"I also feel strongly that Canadians should not be expected to cover the costs of damages in the event of an accident."
The actions are the latest response to last summer’s horrific derailment and fire in Lac-Mégantic that claimed 47 lives.
Concerns about the safety of DOT-111 tank cars date back at least 20 years.
The DOT-111 tank car is considered the workhorse of the North American fleet and makes up about 70 per cent of all tankers on the rails.
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