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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Canadian, U.S. regulators take additional steps to boost haz-mat safety


Canadian Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt yesterday issued a protective order directing railroads to share information on hazardous materials shipments with municipalities.

Transport Canada now will require that any Canadian Class I transporting haz-mat freight provide municipalities with yearly aggregate information, presented by quarter, on the nature and volume of dangerous goods the company transports by rail through that municipality. In addition, any company that transports haz-mat goods by rail, other than a Canadian Class I, must provide municipalities with yearly aggregate information on the nature and volume of the goods transported through that municipality, and notifications of any significant changes to that information, as soon as possible.

The measures address requests from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and its members for more information on hazardous goods being transported by rail in their communities, and further support municipal emergency planners and first responders with their emergency planning and response training, said Raitt in a press release.

"We recognize the responsibilities of all parties involved in maintaining safe railway transportation in Canada," she said. "Our government remains committed to two-way dialogue and information exchange with key transportation stakeholders in communities across Canada."

Railway Association of Canada (RAC) officials welcomed the protective order as another way to ensure rail safety in the nation. Currently, 99.9977 percent of all haz-mat shipments reach their destination without a release caused by train accident, and Canadian Class Is' accident rates have declined significantly since 1999 to fewer than two main-track accidents per million train-miles, according to RAC statistics.

"Railways in Canada have always shared information about dangerous goods with communities and we support the formalization of information sharing with municipal partners and first responders across Canada," said RAC President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Bourque in a prepared statement. "Railways have excellent relationships with first responders and we are anxious to help them develop effective and realistic emergency response plans and to be capable of reacting if an incident were to occur."

The Chemistry Industry Association of Canada (CIAC) also voiced support for the protective order. Association members already "go above and beyond" Canadian laws related to haz-mat transportation, and remain committed to working with governments, transportation partners and communities to further enhance safety, CIAC officials said in a prepared statement.

But as decision-makers consider who should pay in the aftermath of a catastrophic event such as the July derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the federal government needs to carefully weigh the implications for safety if liability were to be shifted away from railroads, they said.

"Railways — like all carriers — are responsible for risk management, and for upholding the standards and operating procedures around the transportation of dangerous goods," said CIAC President and CEO Richard Paton. "We need to make sure that they continue to assume that responsibility, and to do everything possible to ensure the safe transportation of these products."

Meanwhile, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have issued a safety advisory to reinforce to railroads the importance of properly classifying Class 3 flammable and combustible liquids.

The agencies also want to ensure that railroads' safety and security plans address the vulnerabilities cited in an emergency order issued on Aug. 7, which required railroads to take steps within 30 days to ensure trains moving hazardous materials don't move while unattended and possibly cause an accident similar to the Lac-Mégantic derailment.

The FRA and PHMSA together are working on audits to ensure the safety and security plans address the vulnerabilities cited in the emergency order. In addition, PMHSA officials are making unannounced inspections and tests to verify material classification and packing group assignments.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 11/21/2013