Quebec rail explosion prompted regulation, safety changes

AFP-JIJI

The explosion of an oil train that killed 47 people in Quebec last year forced tighter rules to address the rapid growth of transporting oil by rail in North America.

In the immediate aftermath, all eyes fell on the owner, American firm Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, and the driver, who was not at the helm at the time of accident and stood accused of failing to apply the brakes on several cars.

MMA declared bankruptcy after the accident. It could face neither the huge cost of the cleanup nor damage payments to victims.

Quebec and Canadian authorities are paying, and the federal government has announced an increase in insurance premiums for the rail industry.

With the boom in production of non-conventional oil in North America, the number of train cars carrying fuel in Canada has gone from 500 in 2009 to 160,000 in 2013, while in the United States it soared from 10,800 to 400,000 in the same period.

Light crude shale oil — 100 tons of which were carried in each car involved in the accident — was more flammable than officially stated until then. So the Canadian government decided to classify oil as a highly hazardous material.

Furthermore, the aging DOT 111 cars used to carry the oil came in for heated criticism. Twenty years before the accident, reports from transportation officials in the United States had already recommended that they be replaced.

Several months ago, Canada moved to replace its 65,000 DOT 111 cars over the next three years and to remove from the railways immediately about 5,000 others deemed to be “the least resistant.”