Within the space of a week, CBR (crude by rail), as well a pipeline-transported oil, has mushroomed into one of Canada’s most pressing problems.
Author: David Thomas
On Feb. 6—the second time in less than two months—a Canadian Pacific tank car train carrying Alberta bitumen diluted with highly volatile petroleum gases derailed near the tiny town of Guernsey, Sask. The derailment created an explosive fire and prompted the evacuation of more than 80 nearby residents.
Following a second unexplained derailment and rupture-caused explosive fire of a crude oil train in rural Guernsey, Sask., Transport Canada ordered Feb. 6 a 25-mph limit on the speed of oil trains, dropping in metropolitan areas to 20 mph. The Federal Railroad Administration is monitoring Canada’s investigation to determine whether additional regulatory measures should apply once those oil trains cross the border on their way to U.S. refineries. As well, CN has embargoes, for 30 days, permits for certain TIH (toxic inhalation hazard) trains, citing the slow order’s impact on its network.
VIA Rail’s proposed High Frequency Rail (HFR) network of dedicated passenger right-of-way linking Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto has moved from plan to project with the appointment of a British railway expert as team director.
Adding to the flotsam swirling around the once-unsinkable SNC-Lavalin, the engineering company’s credit rating went overboard Aug. 20 when S&P Global Markets downgraded its debt to junk. This followed, by days, the ruling of a federal ethics watchdog that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest law when he tried to spare the company from prosecution for bribery.
Government oil trains were to start running Alberta’s glut of sludgy bitumen to foreign markets July 1 under a US$2.8 billion contract committing provincial taxpayers to the leasing of 4,400 tank cars and guaranteed payments to CN and Canadian Pacific. For the time being, they will be costly ghost trains that earn the railways real money for no haulage.
After five years of internal planning, VIA Rail’s vision of a dedicated, high-frequency passenger railway from Quebec City to Toronto has secured the backing of the new Canada Infrastructure Bank. A C$55 million investment by the bank was announced June 25 for final pre-procurement planning, including the engineering of technical inter-operation with existing commuter lines in Montreal and Toronto.
The viability of one of Canada’s largest rail engineering companies is in question as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struggles against accusations of obstruction of justice in allegedly attempting to spare the company from a corruption trial.
After months of whining about low market value for its low-grade psuedo-oil, the Alberta government announced in November that it would purchase and operate a vast fleet of 7,000 tank cars and 80 locomotives—arguing, in Canutian defiance of Economics 101, that more supply would push up demand and price. Then, only days later in a panicked and completely opposite action, Alberta imposed production quotas to reduce supply.
While the financially panicked government of Alberta has imposed radio silence on its contentious plan to launch a state-owned fleet of oil trains, CN has teamed with a First Nation to obsolete both tank cars and pipelines in the transportation of bitumen.