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Older railway cars will cause more derailments like Lac-Megantic: TSB chair

WATCH: TSB chair Wendy Tadros in an interview with Tom Clark.

OTTAWA – There will be more deadly derailments such as the one in Lac-Megantic if older railway tank cars continue to transport flammable liquids, says the chair of the Transportation Safety Board.

“The risk is, if you leave these cars in the system, and they’re carrying flammable liquids, that you’re going to have more derailments like we’ve seen in the last six months,” Wendy Tadros said in an interview on The West Block with Tom Clark.

In the wake of the deadly Lac-Megantic explosion that killed 47 people, the federal safety investigator on Thursday recommended all so-called DOT-111 cars used to carry oil and other flammable liquids meet tougher enhanced protection standards.

Tadros said the Class 111 cars continue to pose a risk to the public.

“These tank cars are running across North America and the number of tank cars is increasing over the last five years,” she said.

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“As long as they’re out there, the ones that don’t have any protections, then the risk in the system is there.”

The safety board also recommended Thursday for strategic route planning and safer train operations for all trains carrying dangerous goods, and for railways to draft emergency response plans for the transportation of all large volumes of liquid petroleum products.

Tadros said investigators studied the old DOT-111 cars and have shared the information with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

“Hopefully, this science that’s coming out in the last couple days from this investigation will inform the government,” said Tadros.

Raitt, who declined to be interviewed on the program this week, told The West Block in a previous interview that the DOT-111 cars are safe.

“They are safe, and we want to ensure that we make them safer, and that’s always our goal,” Raitt said on January 12.

Michael Bourque, president of the Railway Association of Canada, says the industry has also asked for the older tank cars to be phased out.

And although the industry has known about the problems with DOT-111 cars since the mid-1990s, Bourque could not put a time frame on when that will happen.

“We are not the owners of the cars. For the most part they’re owned by the customers, and so we’ve left it to the manufacturers and the customers to answer that question. What we’ve said is, we would like them to be phased out as quickly as possible,” he said.

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Bourque acknowledgethere is an “inertia” in the industry – but insisted that Canada has the safest railways in North America.

“There’s been a tremendous safety record of moving dangerous goods over many years, and in fact Canada is the safest country in North America for moving these goods,” he said.

“The tank car standards are always evolving and there’s been a lot of research that railroads have done in collaboration with regulators to develop a new standard for tank cars, and that’s why the recommendations that the industry has made is to move to these new tank cars. But there’s a certain amount of inertia in the system because it takes time to transfer and manufacture.”

For her part, Tadros believes the longer the cars are in the system, the greater the risk of another derailment such as Lac Megantic, or recent crashes in Aliceville, Alabama; Casselton, North Dakota; or Place de Rock, New Brunswick.

“The more these cars are left in the system, the longer they’re left in the system, then the more risk of something like that happening,” she said.