Two years after Lac-Megantic disaster, new train standards for Canada-U.S.

Canada and the United States have announced a decade-long plan to phase out trains like the one involved in the deadly 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Que.

WASHINGTON — Canada and the United States have announced a decade-long plan to phase out trains like the one involved in the deadly 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Megantic, Que.

The long-awaited schedule was made public Friday at a news conference by Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

It sets standards for new train cars and, for older cars, a series of seven deadlines between May 2017 and May 2025 by which different models need to be retrofitted.

The first deadline applies to the most dangerous car — flammable-substance-carrying, non-jacketed DOT-111s, like those that barreled into the Quebec town and killed 47 people.

A key milestone is set for 2020, by which point all types of cars carrying crude oil will have to be retrofitted with new shells, head shields and thermal protection.

The announcement also sets speed limits in urban and non-urban areas, and requires a new electronic braking system.

“I know that the safety measures we have outlined today will not be easy, and quite frankly they will not be cheap,” Raitt said.

“But the financial losses, and the costs of cleaning up, after such events as Lac-Megantic will in the long run be far more burdensome.”

The news conference began with a reference to the Quebec disaster, which involved a train carrying a highly flammable variety of light crude oil from the U.S. Midwest.

Oil production has skyrocketed in that region, and as a result so has the volume of oil entering Canada by train: the U.S. now sends more than 10 million barrels per month of crude into Canada, up from less than one million a few years ago.

“When it comes to shipping crude, there is no such thing as an American fleet and a Canadian fleet,” Foxx said. “There is only one fleet.”

U.S. policy-makers published a cost-benefit table of the new rule. The changes are projected to save the industry anywhere between US$900 million to $2.9 billion from accidents avoided. But the projected cost of the changes is $2.48 billion.

The industry offered a mixed reaction.

The Association of American Railroads welcomed some of the changes. But it blasted the new brake requirement, which by 2021 will impose a 48 km/h speed limit in the U.S. on trains where a single car lacks new brakes.

“The far-reaching effects of this decision will be felt by freight and passenger customers alike. Slow-moving trains will back up the entire rail system,” the association said in a statement.

Canada’s opposition lamented that the changes didn’t apply sooner.

It pointed to the fiery derailment in Gogoma, Ont., earlier this spring. The federal Transportation Safety Board concluded that those Class 1232 trains reacted just like the older ones in Lac-Megantic.

Under the terms of Friday’s announcement, those Class 1232 trains would only have to be retrofitted for crude-oil cargo by 2020 and for less-flammable cargo by 2025.

“Those cars are still on our rails — and they’ll still be on our rails for 10 years,” said the NDP’s Hoang Mai. “So it’s still 10 years of dangerous tank cars going through our communities. That is a concern for Canadians.”

The Freight Management Association of Canada said the announcement accomplished a difficult balancing act: pushing for change, but at a pace that car-builders and railways could keep up with.

“I think a lot of thought’s gone into this on both sides of the border,” said president Bob Ballantyne. “It’s probably about as good as could be expected.”

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