Feds introduce new liability standards, safety inspection rules for railways

The federal government says it will beef up rail safety inspections, demand higher insurance liability from small carriers and create a disaster relief fund paid for by oil producers — the latest response to 2013’s deadly oil-by-rail tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que.

OTTAWA — The federal government says it will beef up rail safety inspections, demand higher insurance liability from small carriers and create a disaster relief fund paid for by oil producers — the latest response to 2013’s deadly oil-by-rail tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Que.

“With this legislation, any railway or any company that ships crude oil will share in accountability for clean-up and compensation costs in event of an accident,” Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced Friday.

“The actions today will also help the government better enforce and respond to safety issues.”

The new legislation will set minimum insurance levels for freight operators. Canada’s two largest railways — CN and Canadian Pacific — already meet or exceed the top $1-billion liability threshold, while smaller carriers will have two years to meet lower liability limits of $25 million, $100 million or $250 million, depending on the type and volume of dangerous goods they ship.

The government is also creating a new $250-million compensation fund, to be financed with levies from oil shippers over the next five years.

A spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers said the new levy amounts to 25 cents per barrel of oil shipped by rail.

Rail companies may be required to share operational safety information with municipalities under the new regulations.

And Transport Canada rail safety inspectors will step up inspections, said Raitt, while being given the power to order rail companies to act when potential safety concerns are discovered. Currently companies can only be ordered to act on an immediate safety threat.

“One of the key pieces, quite frankly, is this (new) ministerial order,” said Raitt.

The moves are just the latest regulatory effort to get ahead of a booming oil-by-rail revolution that continues to create disastrous flash points.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates the rail industry will move 700,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil each day by 2016, up from less than 300,000 barrels in all of 2009.

Earlier this week in West Virginia a train carrying over 11 million litres of crude derailed in an explosion of fireballs, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of families.

Every such incident causes flashbacks to July 2013, when a crude-laden freight train derailed in the heart of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and incinerating the downtown core.

Despite years of official reports warning of rail safety deficiencies before that crash, Raitt said it’s unfair to suggest the government only took action after a deadly disaster occurred.

“What we’re focusing on here is a response to a phenomenon that happened very recently — and that’s this incredible increase in the movement of oil by rail. That was not anticipated. That was not the case in 2009.”

The rail company responsible for leaving the running, unmanned train on the main line at grade above Lac-Megantic had been given federal dispensation to have only a single crew member, and was carrying insurance for just $25 million.

The Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway went bankrupt following the crash. The Quebec government says it has spent $200 million to date for 90 per cent of the cleanup and ongoing decontamination effort.

That doesn’t cover rebuilding expenses, including infrastructure, which Lac-Megantic’s mayor has estimated could reach $2 billion.

A US$200-million legal settlement was announced last month, with more than half the money going to various levels of government.

In the meantime, gaps in the rail safety system continue to be plugged.

“We will be totally satisfied when there will be no more trains going through the city of Lac-Megantic,” acting mayor Richard Michaud told The Canadian Press on Friday.

“Then, we will be able to say that we are totally satisfied. Until then, we’ll listen, it is always a little step, always an amelioration. We realize that and we’re happy about it.”

Just Posted

Red Deer school hopes community will help keep meal program running

Funding for provincial nutrition program not guaranteed in the fall

Red Deer-area farmers need this week’s rainfall

County ag specialist favours moderate showers— not a deluge

Red Deer man accused of stealing insurance refunds

$30,000 stolen from two businesses

WATCH: New RDC president has three decades of experience working at colleges and universities

Peter Nunoda says he’s ‘excited’ to help transition the college into a university

Why Solar: Alberta is serious about the energy transition

The powers that be are a misguided bunch, literally. It would seem… Continue reading

Follow the money: Salary cap could spawn NHL trade frenzy

Matt Niskanen wasn’t totally shocked when the Washington Capitals traded him to… Continue reading

Rugby Canada chooses 43-man long list for Pacific Nations Cup tournament

Captain Tyler Ardron, who plays in New Zealand for Super Rugby’s Chiefs,… Continue reading

Paul Simon, Alice Quinn honoured by Poetry Society of America

NEW YORK — Paul Simon doesn’t care much for requests, but he… Continue reading

NFB says Indigenous Action Plan is on track, meets 2020 production targets

MONTREAL — The National Film Board of Canada says it has reached… Continue reading

Take two: Alberta lauds federal re-approval of Trans Mountain pipeline project

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is lauding the federal government’s decision… Continue reading

Business leaders welcome pipeline approval but fear it may not be completed

CALGARY — Ottawa’s approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion pleased business… Continue reading

Most Read