Government further revises train regulations, speed limits, for dangerous goods on Canadian railways

A federal order for trains carrying dangerous goods to slow down after two fiery crashes near Guernsey, Sask., has been further revised by Transport Minister Marc Garneau. 

The original order announced Feb. 6, the same day as the second crash, halved speed limits for trains carrying 20 or more cars with dangerous goods: from 64 km/h to 32 km/h through metropolitan areas, and from 80 km/h to 40 km/h everywhere else.

Garneau’s updated Ministerial Order, announced late Sunday, revised limits again, raising some back up and adding new stipulations on when the limits apply and to which trains.

It separates the limits into two categories: the first is for “higher risk key trains” — those either carrying a single dangerous goods commodity moving to the same point of destination or those that include any combination of 80 or more tank cars containing dangerous goods.

The second category applies to “key trains,” which are defined as those “carrying 20 or more cars containing dangerous goods, or a train carrying one or more cars of toxic inhalation gas.”

The new speed limits are as follows: 

“Higher risk key trains”

  • Metro areas: 48 km/h or 40 km/h in non-signalled areas
  • Non-metro in areas where there are track signals: 80 km/h
  • Non-metro in areas where there are no track signals: 40 km/h

“Key trains”

  • Metro areas: 56 km/h
  • Non-metro in areas where there are track signals: 80 km/h
  • Non-metro in areas where there are no track signals: 64 km/h

The department said it made the changes after conducting further investigation and consulting with industry. The updated order comes into effect immediately. 

It will remain in place until April 1, 2020. Transport Canada said it also plans to introduce permanent measures to improve safety that target track infrastructure maintenance and renewal, winter operations and safety practices of the railway companies. 

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is still investigating both derailments, which occurred on Dec. 9 and Feb. 6 near the small hamlet of Guernsey, which is about 100 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. Each crash spilled more than one million litres of crude oil. 

Nobody was injured in either of the derailments, which both involved Canadian Pacific Railway trains. 

Federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau ordered trains carrying dangerous goods to reduce speeds in populated areas after a CP Rail train crashed outside Guernsey, Sask. 2:01

Guernsey residents were evacuated overnight due to air quality concerns from the blaze that erupted from the tanks after the second crash. 

Puncture-resistant cars involved in Feb. crash

The train that crashed on Feb. 6 was using new industry-standard tank cars designed to be more puncture-resistant than their predecessors. 

TSB investigators inspect train cars involved in the Feb. 6 crash. The new TC-117J tanks are designed to be more puncture-resistant. (Transportation Safety Board)

The train that derailed in December used a mix of jacketed TC-117R cars and CPC-1232 cars, which are not quite the same as the new TC-117J tanks involved in the February derailment. 

Transport Canada has confirmed it inspected the track near Guernsey three times in the last year, using a track inspection vehicle.  

It found “minor non-compliances” on May 7 and Aug. 27, which it said were repaired by CP Rail within 30 days. It has not disclosed the nature of those non-compliance instances.

After the Guernsey-area derailment on Dec. 9, Transport Canada returned to the track for a third time, on Jan. 29 of this year. It found “no instances of non-compliance.”

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