(Canadian OH&S News) — The railway industry in Canada continues to tackle emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs) in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic train derailment last year in Quebec.
Andy Ash, director of dangerous goods with the Ottawa-based Railway Association of Canada, said that Transport Canada had issued four protective directions to the industry since the July 6, 2013 derailment, which claimed the lives of 47 people. One of those, Protective Direction no. 33 (PD 33), placed new ERAP requirements on certain flammable liquids, such as petroleum crude oil and ethanol.
About six million litres of crude spilled in the derailment.
Speaking at the Canadian Industrial Emergency Conference & Expo, held in Hamilton, Ont. on Sept. 24 and 25, Ash said that PD 33 came into effect on Sept. 20 and required, among other items, that shippers conduct risk assessments along the routes to ensure that emergency response contractors are capable of dealing with the shipped product.
“Here’s the kicker, the big one that made this one different from all the other ERAPS: that shipper must also indicate in the plan firefighting capabilities,” Ash said during his Lac-Mégantic Railway Disaster Fallout presentation. “Totally new, brand new. Very non-specific, I might add.”
Ash noted that the railway industry was working with shippers, contractors, municipalities and local fire departments to look at options, such as foam caches and where to get water in extreme temperatures. The industry is also working with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Transport Canada, the Canadian Fuels Association, the Canadian Emergency Response Contractors’ Alliance, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and Environment Canada.
Ash acknowledged that it could be difficult for smaller or remote communities to comply with the requirement for firefighting capabilities, adding that Transport Canada had issued interim approvals until they could get out and look at all the plans. “What are you going to do in northern Ontario? What are you going to do up in Capreol or Moonbeam or something like that, where you got the CN running right through there with all the dangerous goods?” he asked. “What is that volunteer fire department… going to do? They only have very limited capability.
“This isn’t like turning the light switch on. This is going to take time to get it all done,” Ash stressed. “We’ve got working groups and conference calls. It’ll work, but it’s going to take time because there are so many municipalities that we have to deal with.”
During his presentation, Ash, who had arrived on the scene on the morning of the derailment, said he was surprised at the destruction, which killed 47 people and destroyed dozens of vehicles and homes. “When I first got on site, the very first thing I said to myself was, ‘That’s crude oil?’ I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “This stuff was burning like angry. I never thought it would behave like that. I was shocked, I really was.”
The first order of business was to identify all the rail cars and their commodities, but because the fire was so bad, reporting marks on the cars were destroyed. To complicate the investigation, the Quebec provincial police initially declared the whole area a crime scene, “which was a first for us,” Ash said, and there were “four or five different police checkpoints, just to get on site.”
And the fallout from the disaster continues to this day. “I understand, talking to the fire chief in Lac-Mégantic a couple of weeks ago, they’re down 25 feet of soil and still digging and they’re still getting oil,” Ash said. “That was definitely the worst rail disaster in Canada, if not North America, when it comes to damages and fatalities.”
But with the protective directions and changes already in place or occurring, some good will come out of the disaster, Ash said. “The bottom line is to make sure good things come out of it, so we don’t have another Lac-Mégantic.”