Providing Safe, Reliable Rail Transportation of Crude Oil in North America
By Michael Bourque and Edward R. Hamberger
On both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, we are solemnly reflecting on the one-year observance of a terrible tragedy. On July 6, 2013, 47 people were killed when a train hauling crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que.
Investigators have pored over the accident scene – one of the largest in Canadian history – in an effort to determine exactly what happened. While freight rail companies in our countries have excellent overall safety records, this horrific event, however anomalous, has brought about a re-dedication to safety.
As senior representatives, respectively, of the Canadian and U.S. freight rail industries, our mission is to work so that nothing like the tragic accident in Lac-Mégantic ever happens again.
We want to underscore our mission in the clearest language possible: Canadian and U.S. railways are fully committed to safely and securely delivering dangerous goods – including crude oil – by rail. Crude oil has been safely delivered by rail for many years, but since the Lac-Mégantic incident, freight rail companies on both sides of the border have recommitted themselves to reducing the risks associated with moving this energy commodity.
Since last summer, the freight rail industries on both sides of the border have focused on several broad areas for improving the safety of crude oil transportation in particular.
- First, in light of increased crude oil shipments, we conducted a top-to-bottom review and voluntarily updated several key operating practices.
- Second, from train speeds to track and equipment inspections, railways have raised their own standards for movements of oil by rail – standards that are well beyond federal requirements.
- Third, railways have stepped up their communication and collaboration with communities through which they operate, to address concerns and reinforce preparedness. In Canada, whenever possible, alternative routes for dangerous goods transportation are selected.
- Fourth, railways continue to devote enormous resources and effort to preventing and preparing for emergency situations all along their lines.
- Fifth, railways actively work with local and regional emergency response officials so that those who need to know what is moving through their area are informed and prepared to respond to an emergency situation.
In addition to these steps aimed at increasing safety, Canadian and U.S. freight railways have worked collaboratively with their respective governments to operate under updated standards related to moving crude oil by rail.
Ensuring sufficient safety training for responders along crude oil routes is even more important. The freight rail industries are providing training to thousands of local first responders, assisting communities in developing emergency response plans and positioning emergency response resources at strategic locations along oil routes.
We believe that our governments should raise federal tank car standards so that crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest cars possible based on the makeup of the product being moved. We also believe the existing tank car fleet should be upgraded with retrofits, or aggressively phased out – as the Canadian government recently moved to do.
Railways are moving what North America’s economy needs them to move – as safely, securely and efficiently as possible. And because of major investments in network infrastructure, railways can meet growing demand for domestically produced crude oil.
But safety is, and forever will be, front and centre.
Michael Bourque is president and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada.
Ed Hamberger is president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads.
Click here for a factsheet of railway industry safety measures since Lac-Mégantic.
Michael Bourque, President and CEO RAC
Canadian Rail is Safe
Canada’s railways suffered high profile and unfortunate accidents last year, most notably the horrific tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. As a result, Canadians are justifiably concerned with railway safety in their community and their country. Several initiatives to improve safety, transparency and response are underway. (Click here for PDF of full text)
Rail Service is on the Right Track
The Hon. Denis Lebel, P.C., M.P., Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the regions of Quebec, released the Final Report of the Facilitator of the Rail Freight Service Review on June 22, 2012 (The Dinning Report). (click here for PDF of full text)
Canada’s railways rank among the best
A Leger poll taken earlier this year highlights some surprising attitudes by Canadians about freight rail. It seems a great majority of Canadians (87%) would support the government providing funding for rail. However, the freight rail industry is not asking the government for such subsidies, nor does it receive any today. Read the full comment published in The Financial Post by clicking here.
CTV News Channel
Michael had a chat with Dan Matheson, co-host of Morning Express, on the resurgence of Canada's Rail sector.
Click here to watch the video.
Rail is booming in Canada
CBC Newsworld - The Lang and O'Leary Exchange
Michael discussed the rail sector's growing momentum on CBC's The Lang & O'Leary Exchange. To view the interview