Derailed Oil Train in Ontario Was Within Speed Limit -- Update

Dow Jones Business News (via Nasdaq) | February 23, 2015 | Column by Paul Vieira and Russell Gold

A train that derailed in northern Ontario just over a week ago--igniting and spilling more than 6,000 barrels of oil--was traveling at a restricted speed and carrying oil in structurally enhanced tank cars, Canadian investigators said Monday.

Initial findings on the accident from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada suggest it bore stark similarities to a fiery derailment that occurred days later in West Virginia. The findings are likely to add to concerns that recent regulatory steps to make the transport of oil by rail don't go far enough.

In the Ontario accident, 29 railcars derailed, with 21 sustaining fire damage, the TSB said. The train, operated by Canadian National Railway Co., was traveling at 38 miles an hour at the time of the derailment, under a 40-mile-per-hour speed restriction, the agency said.

The train was made up of tank cars built to the new CPC-1232 standard that regulators in both Canada and the U.S. have deemed safer. No one was injured in the incident, which destroyed about 900 feet of track and caused a fire that burned for six days.

The TSB compared some details of the incident to the deadly 2013 derailment of a crude-carrying train in Lac- Mégantic, Quebec, noting that even though the train in the Ontario incident was traveling slower and consisted of more modern tank cars, the cars "performed similarly to those involved in the Lac-Mégantic accident which occurred at 65 [miles per hour]."

"We once again urge [the Canadian government] to expedite the introduction of enhanced protection standards to reduce the risk of product loss when these cars are involved in accidents," said Jean Laporte, the TSB's chief operating officer, in a statement. The TSB said the Feb. 14 accident in Ontario highlighted the inadequacy of the CPC-1232 standard.

A spokesman for Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said officials in Ottawa were working with their counterparts in Washington to develop a next-generation standard of tank car that would be more robust than the CPC- 1232. "The safety and security of Canadians is the top priority."

Ms. Raitt last week unveiled new measures meant to make railroads and shippers more accountable for rail accidents involving crude, including introducing a new levy on rail shippers of crude.

A spokesman for CN declined to comment on the TSB's findings, but added it would continue to cooperate with the board on its investigation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government on Monday said it was proceeding with what it called a "full-scale investigation" into the derailment of the train in West Virginia a week ago. The train was carrying crude oil from North Dakota to a terminal on the Atlantic coast.

"Until a more robust tank car standard with enhanced protection is implemented for North America, the risk will remain," the TSB said in its initial findings. While the CPC-1232 is an upgrade, the safety board said it has warned the Canadian government that a tougher standard for tank cars is required to provide an adequate level of protection.

Unmodified, older tank cars, or DOT-111s, will be banned in Canada after May 2017.

There are similarities between the accident near Timmins, Ontario, and the derailment in West Virginia. The latter train, operated by CSX Corp., derailed while traveling 33 miles per hour, below the 50 mile-per-hour speed limit imposed last year on trains carrying crude oil. Moreover, the train was also pulling CPC-1232 tanker cars, introduced in 2011 to be a safer replacement for an older generation that had been criticized as inadequate for years.

U.S. officials are trying to understand why a train moving at a relatively slow speed suffered such a catastrophic failure in West Virginia. Of the train's 109 cars, 27 derailed and the majority of those ended up on fire. Nearby residents were evacuated and the fire burned for over three days.

Write to Paul Vieira at paul.vieira@wsj.com and Russell Gold at russell.gold@wsj.com

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Derailed Oil Train in Ontario Was Within Speed Limit -- Update
PAUSE, People of Albany United for Safe Energy
PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.