Thursday, June 19, 2014

Canada TSB clears interim CBR reforms

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Canada's transportation accident investigators gave the country's rail regulator, Transport Canada, a passing grade on interim emergency directives introduced in April to reduce the chances of crude oil train explosions such as that which devastated downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013.

In its June 18 report card, the independent Transportation Safety Board gave a grade of "satisfactory in part" to Transport Canada's three-year phase-out of DOT-111 general purpose tank cars for crude oil service. The TSB welcomed the Canadian regulator's immediate, interim adoption of the industry's own voluntary CPC-1232 specification that has applied to tank cars built since 2011. The TSB said a final grade awaits specification by Canadian and U.S. regulators of a future, permanent standard for crude oil tank cars.

The TSB simultaneously released three comprehensive laboratory analyses showing how the Lac-Mégantic cars crumpled and breached, data that can inform the Federal Railroad Administration's current deliberations over a clean-sheet redesign for an eventual successor to the DOT-111 and CPC-1232 cars. Thirty of the 63 derailed cars suffered head or shell punctures, said TSB Chair Wendy Tadros in a Twitter exchange with journalists.

With respect to its recommendation that Canada's "Emergency Response Assistance Plans" already in place for higher-risk commodities be required for crude oil, the TSB awarded a "fully satisfactory" grade. Implementation of ERAP protection for trains including even a single carload of crude oil or ethanol is under way, with a possible eventual extension to cover other liquid hydrocarbons.

On Transport Canada's emergency directive that railways undertake route planning and analysis for dangerous goods consists, the safety agency was less enthusiastic, with a grade of "satisfactory intent". While the new regulatory requirement for urban speed restrictions and risk-based route planning is stronger than a similar request for voluntary action by the FRA, the TSB was dubious about its application only to routes that see 10,000 or more carloads of dangerous goods annually. The safety board called for a fresh look at the implications of the 10,000-carload threshold for route planning and risk analysis.

The TSB has yet to issue a final report on the Lac-Mégantic disaster, in which 47 people were killed due to the explosion of a runaway crude oil unit train which left the tracks at 65 mph, releasing six million liters of Bakken shale oil on its way to Irving Oil's refinery at Saint-John, New Brunswick.