Re-eval­u­ate speed lim­its for trains car­ry­ing oil, TSB rec­om­mends

The Peterborough Examiner - - NATIONAL - MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

Cur­rent speed lim­its for Canada’s oil-car­ry­ing freight trains may be too high to pre­vent se­ri­ous ac­ci­dents and should be re-eval­u­ated, the Trans­porta­tion Safety Board said Thurs­day as it re­leased the find­ings of its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a fiery 2015 de­rail­ment in north­ern On­tario.

The TSB said its re­view of the in­ci­dent that dumped 1.7 mil­lion litres of crude oil into the lo­cal ecosys­tem has raised con­cerns about the ex­ist­ing Trans­port Canada rules, par­tic­u­larly as they ap­ply to older train cars that are ex­pected to con­tinue car­ry­ing oil and other po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous goods for years to come.

The Fe­bru­ary 2015 de­rail­ment in a re­mote, wooded area near Gogama, Ont., about 80 kilo­me­tres south of Tim­mins, Ont., sent 29 cars hurtling off the tracks.

No one was in­jured, but the TSB said the crash breached 19 cars, caus­ing the mas­sive oil spill and ig­nit­ing fires that burned for five days.

At a press con­fer­ence in Sud­bury, Ont., on Thurs­day the board said the de­rail­ment was caused when two joint bars used to con­nect pieces of rail failed.

The TSB at­trib­uted the fail­ure in part to poor main­te­nance prac­tices, but said speed also played a role.

TSB Chair Kathy Fox said the train was trav­el­ling at 61 kilo­me­tres an hour at the time of the de­rail­ment, three kilo­me­tres be­low the 64-km/h max­i­mum set for that stretch of track.

“The TSB is con­cerned that cur­rently per­mit­ted speeds are too high for key trains trans­port­ing Class 3 flammable liq­uids,” Fox said.

“We are rec­om­mend­ing that Trans­port Canada study all fac­tors that in­crease the sever­ity of de­rail­ments in­volv­ing dan­ger­ous goods, in­clud­ing speed, that Trans­port Canada de­velop mit­i­gat­ing strate­gies, and then amend the rules ac­cord­ingly.”

Trans­port Canada cur­rently al­lows freight trains car­ry­ing dan­ger­ous goods to travel at a max­i­mum speed of 80 km/h ev­ery­where, and at a max­i­mum of 64 km/h through densely pop­u­lated ar­eas and where dan­ger­ous goods are be­ing trans­ported in older tank cars in high­er­risk zones.

Rob John­ston, the TSB’s man­ager for cen­tral re­gional op­er­a­tions, said the Gogama de­rail­ment was rem­i­nis­cent of the 2013 crash in Lac Me­gan­tic, Que., that saw sec­tions of the town burn to the ground.

The tank cars in­volved in the Gogama de­rail­ment fea­tured tougher steel and were built to a higher stan­dard than those in­volved in the Lac Me­gan­tic dis­as­ter, he said, but added they still lacked cer­tain key fea­tures and were vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age at higher speeds.

John­ston said the de­rail­ment breached the shells on eight cars, which caused an ini­tial oil spill and started a large “pool fire.”

More oil spilled when seven cars ly­ing in the fire sus­tained “ther­mal tears,” he added. John­ston did not de­scribe ex­actly how the other four breached cars were dam­aged.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has an­nounced tougher stan­dards for tank cars car­ry­ing crude oil and ac­cel­er­ated the process of re­mov­ing po­ten­tially un­safe cars from the tracks, but Fox said the type in­volved in the Gogama crash will still be in use un­til 2025.

While she said speed is a key fac­tor, she said the board is urg­ing Trans­port Canada to study all vari­ables in­clud­ing the type of prod­uct on board and how it’s dis­trib­uted within the train.


Burn­ing wreck­age of bro­ken tanker cars are seen burn­ing in this Fe­bru­ary 2015 file photo taken near Gogama, Ont.

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