David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas, Contributing Editor

David Thomas is a reporter who has covered government and society since graduating from Ottawa’s Carleton University with degrees in political science and journalism. He has written for National Geographic, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, The Gazette, and The Canadian Press news agency from postings in Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto, and London, England. “Railroading has been a personal fascination since a childhood timed fortunately enough to witness the golden years of steam on the late-to-dieselize Canadian National and Canadian Pacific,” he says.

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The chain reaction fireballs that attended the Feb. 16, 2015 derailment of a CSX unit oil train in populated West Virginia probably blinded observers to the significance of the concurrent derailment and explosions of a CN oil train in a remote and uninhabited area of northern Ontario. Most reports treated the two events as equals, given that both trains consisted of recently manufactured CPC-1232 tank cars loaded with crude oil.

Two same-day derailments of crude oil trains in Canada and a third in West Virginia two days later illustrate the strengths and limitations of the newest general-purpose tank cars plying North American rails.
Canada’s Conservative government extended its takeover of railway grain movements Nov. 29, ordering CN and Canadian Pacific to shift specified quantities of grain each week throughout the winter, or be fined $100,000 per violation.
With China’s slowing economy depressing iron ore prices, this would seem an inauspicious time to build a third railway from tidewater to the interior wilds of the Labrador Trench. Nonetheless, to keep life in its grand plan to develop its vast north, the Quebec provincial government is contracting Montreal-based Canarail to report on the feasibility of a new 200-mile line from Sept-Iles on the Gulf of St. Lawrence due north to the high-grade ore deposited 200 million years ago when a sea of iron-rich magma burst through a rift in the earth’s crust.
Transport Canada’s new Railway Operating Certificate (ROC), which comes into effect Jan. 1 2015, adds one simple form to the pile of paperwork required to run trains, but gives the regulator a new power to shut down a company’s operations without resorting to prosecution in court.
Thursday, 20 November 2014 11:50

Keystone XL promoter a convert to CBR

Now even the promoter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline is boosting the benefits of crude-by-rail (CBR) over pipelines.

After a train crash of criticism by Canada's Transportation Safety Board and the country's auditor-general, Transport Canada is softly moderating its three-wise-monkeys approach to railway regulation.

Whatever the unrevealed reasons for Cynthia Quarterman’s (pictured) Oct. 3, 2014 departure as head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a change at the top may reverse the federal regulator’s much-criticized lethargy in fixing the core cause of exploding oil trains.
The vital other shoe in crude by rail reform will drop not in Ottawa or Washington, but in Bismark, N.Dak., where, in the void created by federal inaction, officials are preparing to use state jurisdiction over natural resources to order the degasification of petroleum at the wellhead.
Chronic laxity by Canada’s transportation regulator is identified by the country’s accident investigator as the primary underlying cause of the July 6, 2013 derailment and explosion at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, of a Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train carrying 7.7 million liters of mislabeled crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation to Irving Oil’s refinery at Saint John, N.B.
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