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Government announces new standard for rail cars carrying dangerous goods

New tank car improves safety with thicker steel, thermal protection, full head shields and enhanced bottom outlet valves


(Canadian OH&S News) — After years of controversy regarding the suitability of CTC-111A (or DOT-111) tank cars for carrying flammable liquids like crude oil or ethanol by rail, Transport Canada (TC) has officially introduced a new standard for tank cars, in collaboration with the United States Department of Transportation (DOT).

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt made the announcement with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx on the morning of May 1, at the DOT headquarters in Washington, D.C. Raitt and Foxx unveiled the TC-117 standard (or DOT-117 in the U.S.), which has improved safety features including thicker steel, thermal protection, full head shields and enhanced bottom outlet valves.

“I want to note how pleased I am that we are taking these actions in a spirit of partnership,” Raitt told press attendees at the DOT headquarters. “Canadian and American officials worked jointly to reach a solution that took into account the railway systems and industries in both of our countries, and it is this collaboration that brought us to this important agreement.”

According to Raitt, the new TC-117 tank car will include thicker steel heads and shells, as well as head shields, to prevent puncture and increase structural strength. Additional protection will come in the form of a thermal jacket to withstand heat, protective covers over valves and accessories on the car’s top and stronger bottom valves to stop leaks and withstand derailment.

As per recommendations by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB), TC is also phasing out the entire fleet of CTC-111A and CPC 1232 tank cars currently in operation for carrying dangerous goods in Canada. CTC-111A cars comprised the entire fleet of oil carriers on the train involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que. nearly two years ago.

“We can never undo the damage that took place in Lac-Mégantic or in any other railway accident,” Raitt said in her prepared remarks. “But we can and must learn from those events and improve our system.”

Raitt added that the oldest and least crash-resistant cars would be taken out of commission first. “We must increase the safety of rail cars as soon as possible,” she said, “but we must also provide tank-car owners with enough time to comply with the new requirements while railway companies continue to meet shipping demands.”

In a press statement following Raitt’s announcement, TSB chair Kathy Fox said that she was pleased with the government’s new tank-car standard and implementation schedule.

“The TSB has been calling for improvement to railway tank cars for several years and has reiterated these calls following recent occurrences involving crude-oil-train derailments,” said Fox. “The new standards and timelines announced today are important steps in addressing outstanding recommendations, including those stemming from the TSB’s investigation into the Lac-Mégantic accident.

“The TSB will carefully review the new tank car standards and the implementation timeline for retrofitting the existing Class 111 cars used for flammable-liquid service as part of its normal process for the reassessment of responses to safety recommendations.”

Raitt acknowledged that these changes would be both difficult and financially costly. “But more important than all of this is what we can save in human costs,” she said. “We must act to honour those who died and were injured and to show that community and all communities that safety is our most important priority in transportation.

“We will achieve safer railway transportation and safer communities in both Canada and the United States.”