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Efforts must be stepped up to deal with safety issue

Posted on January 20, 2014 by Westwind Weekly

The issue of rail safety in Canada continues to be a hot topic.

As recently as Monday, an industry forum heard from the head of CN Rail s safety division about the need to phase out old, unsafe railway tank cars.

That came on the heels of a derailment and fire last week involving a CN train in New Brunswick.

It was followed by a train derailment Saturday in Burnaby, B.C. that dumped coal into a creek.

The latest incidents add to a growing list of rail mishaps that continue to raise concerns about rail safety.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact the oil industry is increasingly relying on rail to ship oil across the continent.

A Nov. 14 story in The Globe and Mail,  Is oil-by-rail boom an accident waiting to happen?,  addressed those concerns, which have a lot to do with the age of the DOT-111 tank car model that are prevalent.  

These cars, the subject of repeated warnings from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, have a thin metal skin that s easily punctured in the event of a derailment,  said the story.

It was the DOT-111 tank cars that drew much of the focus at Monday s rail forum.

There are apparently close to 80,000 sub-standard DOT-111 carrying flammable liquids on North American tracks, and CN s Sam Berrada said railways  will continue to push aggressively  for safer, strong tank cars.

But the consensus at the forum was that there s no quick solution to the problem. It will take time to replace the older DOT-111s with newer, better tank cars.

However, a veteran railroader suggests the problem goes well beyond the older tank cars in use. In a Nov. 28 article in the Montreal Gazette, Rex Beatty, president of the union representing more than 10,000 Canadian rail workers, noted,  . . . the fact is, the entire railway system suffers from fatigue; right down the line.

Presumably that includes all railway infrastructure including rail lines.

It stands to reason that as more trains are shipping oil along those lines, there will be increasing wear and tear. So rail line maintenance becomes an issue in the rail safety discussion, too.

As recently as early December, a report from auditor general Michael Ferguson took Transport Canada to task for not doing enough to ensure rail safety.

The report cited inadequate audits, insufficiently trained staff and lack of focus on high-risk railroads.

In a meeting with federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt following the July 6 rail disaster in Lac-M}gantic, Que., some Quebec mayors voiced concern about the integrity of rail infrastructure.

The concerns seem well founded. As the number of railway incidents continues to grow, the need for industry and government to do something about the problem grows, too.

It s obviously a multi-faceted problem that will take time to fix. But it needs to be fixed, and that means stepping up efforts to ensure that happens. It’s only a matter of time before there s another incident that results in loss of life.

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