Flimsy Rail Tank Cars Need Replacing or Upgrading
The majority of tank cars hauling oil and other dangerous goods across North America are the older model DOT-111. It is this older model that has been involved in almost all of the recent derailment-associated oil spills, explosions and fires. About 80,000 sub-standard DOT-111 tank cars still carry flammable liquids on tracks in North America. The older model cars carry about 70% of hazardous goods shipped in Canada. The older DOT-111 does not comply with current standards, and has been known for 2 decades to puncture easily when derailed.
New rail safety regulations developed in response to the Lac-Megantic oil train disaster last July will require new tank cars to have thicker shells and top-fitting protection to match regulations already in place in the U.S. Although this is a good step forward by Transport Canada, these new and much safer standards will unfortunately only apply to new tank cars – not to the tens of thousands of older model DOT-111 cars already on our tracks. Under pressure from the rail industry, the Canadian and U.S. federal governments have been reluctant to address the older flimsy DOT-111s because of costs and logistics of refurbishing them – they could not be used to haul goods while they were being upgraded, which would affect rail companies’ bottom line.
Although Canada’s Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt has suggested the older model DOT-111 cars are safe, rail experts say they are anything but safe. CIBC economist Jeff Rubin said, “They are the tanker cars that have been involved in virtually every explosion”. He said, with rail transport of oil projected to double within the next few years, it’s only a matter of time until an accident occurs in a large urban area, such as Toronto or Chicago. Rubin and others point out that, as oil production from the tar sands and hydrofracturing (fracking) has increased exponentially, proper attention has not been paid to addressing the safe transport of oil.
Since the Lac-Megantic disaster, CN and others in the rail industry have suggested they want to “aggressively phase out” older model tank cars. If CN and others are indeed serious about such a phase-out, they and the Railway Association of Canada need to stop quietly lobbying the federal government to slow down this process and rather get out in front of the issue and implement the phase-out themselves. The rail industry in Canada certainly has the power and the authority to transition quickly to newer and sturdier tank cars without having to wait for Transport Canada to force the transition through regulation; however, doing so would mean greater costs for the rail companies and their shippers, and that would negatively affect stock ratings.