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Rail groups tout safety amid Canadian disaster

Keywords: Tags  Lac-Megantic rail accident, derailment, railroad safety, Canadian National Railway, Mark Hallman, Association of American Railroads, crude oil, Corinna Petry


CHICAGO — Time will tell whether the future of shipping crude oil by railroad will be impacted by the July 6 derailment and explosion of an oil tanker train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Canadian news reports have suggested the Canadian government should consider tightening safety standards after the runaway train derailed, leaving at least five people dead and about 40 people missing ( amm.com, July 8) .

North American rail companies, however, touted their low-incident performance.

“Railroads have a tremendous safety record for moving hazardous materials, including crude oil,” and 99.9977 percent “of all rail hazmat (hazardous material) shipments reach their destination without a release caused by train accident,” the Association of American Railroads (AAR) said.

A Canadian National Railway Co. (CN) spokesman said the company was “not in a position to discuss the circumstances surrounding the tragic Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway accident,” but called the event “a sober reminder of the vital importance of rail safety.”

Attempts to reach Canadian Pacific Railway, Burlington Northern Sante Fe, Kansas City Southern, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and CSX, which have business with the energy industry, were unsuccessful.

“This tragedy notwithstanding, movement of hazardous material by rail is being handled safely in the vast majority of instances,” CN spokesman Mark Hallman told AMM July 8.

“Rail complements pipeline in the movement of crude oil. Both modes are safe and the risk of accidental releases of product is extremely low for both modes of transport, with no appreciable difference considering both spill frequency and size,” he said.

He noted that U.S. and Canadian railroad operators “are subject to extensive safety regulation. Rules and standards are prescribed for railway operations, track safety, freight cars, locomotives, work/rest provisions, and medical requirements.”

“CN’s main track safety record in 2012 was very strong, reflecting long-standing and thorough safety training and relentless efforts to improve and to continue reduction in accidents,” said Hallman.

CN transports crude oil from western Canada to various markets in North America. Its network provides direct access to heavy oil and bitumen production areas in the Lloydminster, Peace River, Cold Lake, and Athabasca regions of western Canada, as well as to the Bakken area in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Last year CN moved over 30,000 carloads of crude oil to various North American markets, and it believes it has the scope to double this business in 2013.

Each carload equals 600 to 700 barrels of oil.

Between 2002 and 2012, 129 rail-transported crude oil incidents were reported, compared with 1,849 reported pipeline incidents.

Less than 2,270 barrels were spilled in railroad spill incidents, compared with 474,441 barrels spilled in pipeline incidents, AAR reported.

“Since 1990 (until July 2013), there have been no fatalities or injuries related to the movement of crude by rail,” the AAR said, citing research by the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration, HMIS and Pipeline Incident Databases, AAR freight commodity statistics and the Association of Oil Pipelines.

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