January 12, 2014 2:42 pm

Are more disasters on Canadian railways inevitable with the increase in oil shipments?

Watch above: Jeff Rubin tells The West Block with Tom Clark that when a train carrying combustible oil derailed and erupted in flames in northern New Brunswick, the countdown to another rail disaster began immediately.

Story continues below

The countdown to another rail disaster began immediately after a train carrying combustible oil derailed and erupted in flames in northern New Brunswick, said Jeff Rubin, former chief economist of CIBC World Markets.

The root of the problem is that pipeline infrastructure hasn’t kept pace with the production boom of oil in North America, forcing companies to look to railways as a means to ship oil, he said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

Prior to 2009, hardly any oil—just 8,000 metric tonnes—was shipped along rail lines. But with pipelines at capacity, companies have turned to trains.

READ MORE: Crude oil spills are bigger from trains than pipelines

So in 2011, nearly 375,000 metric tonnes of oil were travelling along Canada’s rails, and in 2012, the quantity skyrocketed to 4.3 million metric tonnes.

With so much oil being transported along railways, Canada is inevitably going to see more explosions, Rubin said. And it’s only a matter of time before such an event occurs in a major city like Toronto or Chicago, areas that see a lot of oil travelling its railways, he added.

WATCH above:  The weekly West Block primer takes a look at the data surrounding transportation of oil by rail.

Canadians have become familiar with the dangers associated with transporting combustible oil along the country’s railroads, and questions continue to swirl around the safety of that option as blazing fires were extinguished this weekend at the site of one of Canada’s most recent train derailments.

That train in northern New Brunswick had five cars loaded with crude oil, and four others carrying petroleum gas, and exploded when some of the cars derailed last Tuesday evening.

Although the cause of the derailment is still under investigation, the Transportation Safety Board has said the failure of a wheel and axel was the likely cause.

READ MORE: Transport Canada hasn’t implemented rail safety recommendations

Even as the number of high-profile train derailments across the country cause concern for public safety, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt insists the system is safe.

“The system is safe,” she said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark. “We’ve transported dangerous goods across the country for the last 100 years. but the reality is the type of dangerous goods can change, and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure their safe travel.

WATCH above: Despite the recent rash of high profile train derailments, the system is safe, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says, noting there is always room for improvements.

One factor many critics have focussed on, including Rubin, is the cars railways are using to transport crude oil, specifically the DOT-111 tankers—the same cars used in the Lac-Megantic and New Brunswick disasters.

To that, Raitt said the tanker cars are safe, and Transport Canada has started acting on Transportation Safety Board recommendations to make them even safer.

“New regulations are being proposed today, but the reality is the entire area of manufacturing of tank cars has moved to these new standards voluntarily, since 2012,” the minister said.

READ MORE: ‘Significant weaknesses’ in Transport Canada’s oversight of rail safety: Auditor General

“That being said, it doesn’t stop there. because we do know that these cars are being utilized more and more as oil is moving more and more through the rail system. So we are working with our counterparts in the United States … to ensure we have the safest car we can for the crude oil that we are moving across our continent.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

Report an error

Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus Add a Comment