U.S., Canada ready oil train safety measures

Fri May 1, 2015 1:27am EDT
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By Patrick Rucker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Canada's transport minister will be in Washington on Friday for a joint announcement with her U.S. counterpart aimed at harmonizing safety regulations on shipping crude oil by rail, a politically sensitive issue on both sides of the border.

Lisa Raitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx are expected to demand that railroad companies equip cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, a proposal the industry has aggressively resisted.

They are also expected to address the timetable for each country to remove older rail cars from service, as well as set a requirement for thicker hulls on new cars.

The safety of crude oil shipments by rail has become a battleground between regulators and industries with conflicting agendas. A series of fiery derailments - most notably the 2013 explosion of a runaway train that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Quebec - has focused attention on the dangers accompanying the sharp growth in the number of trains carrying oil.

Since the Quebec accident, regulators in Canada and the United States have wrestled with how to improve safety without crippling an industry that has helped spur domestic oil production.

The rail and energy sectors have both resisted measures that they have said are too costly to implement for the small safety improvement they deliver.

Electronically controlled pneumatic brakes trigger all axles simultaneously rather than one at a time in current design and many safety advocates have said it is an important advance.

Large rail operators have lobbied against including an ECP brake mandate in the oil train rules, telling U.S. regulators in March that they "would not have significant safety benefits" and "would be extremely costly."   Continued...

Canada's Transport Minister Lisa Raitt speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa March 10, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Wattie