Canada rail safety jobs vacant as budget cuts bite

Mon Dec 8, 2014 9:02am EST
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By Mike De Souza

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Budget cuts have left safety-related engineering positions vacant in the Canadian agency responsible for overseeing shipments of dangerous goods, government records show, fueling worries about trains moving oil across the country.

Rail safety is in focus with the boom in oil shipments and a spate of derailments across North America, and the vacancies create a safety risk, industry experts and Canada’s public engineers’ union say.

The chair of the Transportation Safety Board, Kathy Fox, says there is risk of a spill as long as the government fails to address its oversight weaknesses and improve tank car standards.

“We don't believe that the current standard is sufficiently robust to prevent liquid spilling in the event of a derailment or rail accident, so what we want to see are tougher standards for tank cars carrying flammable liquids,” Fox told Reuters.

A recent analysis by the Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration estimated that a failure to upgrade existing regulations would lead to the equivalent of 10 major accidents, costing more than US$18 billion in damages, including fatalities, over the next 20 years.

   Retired and current employees from Transport Canada told Reuters that engineers in the department’s dangerous goods division would be responsible for developing new standards.

Fox said her board had not determined whether staffing levels were a factor, but said until new standards are in place, "during this period, we continue to be at risk with large transport of flammable liquids by rail.”

Last year, 47 people were killed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded. [ID:nL2N0PF13Y]   Continued...

Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox speaks during a news conference in Ottawa November 26, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie