Why the Accelerated tank Car Phase out Will do Little to Ensure Public Safety

By Bruce Campbell: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

(Behind the Numbers)

September 6, 2016September 6, 2016 Bruce CampbellLeave a comment

Transport Canada’s accelerated oil tank car phase-out: less than meets the eye

At the end of July, Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced Canada would accelerate the phase-out of the class of rail tank cars that exploded in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013, taking 47 lives. Rather than wait until 2018, as in the U.S., the minister told media Canada’s legacy DOT-111 cars would cease transporting crude oil by October 31, 2016.[1]

Improved DOT-111 tank cars still vulnerable. Image via Government of Canada.

Garneau called the move “another crucial step in improving the safety of communities along our railway lines.” Transportation Safety Board Chair Kathy Fox said it was “a positive step (that) highlights Canadian leadership in terms of action taken to improve tank car safety.” And a number of Quebec politicians, including the Québec Union of Municipalities, likewise welcomed the decision. But was it really such a crucial step? A closer inspection shows the risk to communities along rail lines used to transport oil and other dangerous products, remains high.

Garneau failed to mention in July that modified DOT-111 tank cars, called CPC 1232s, still carry, and will continue to carry for well into the future, the vast majority of crude oil currently transported in North America. US National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt, at a July 13, 2016 roundtable on rail tank car safety, referred to these CPC–1232 tank cars as, “a slightly improved version of the legacy DOT-111’s.” [2]

There has been a massive reduction in the number of legacy DOT-111 crude oil tank cars in circulation—the kind involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster—but this is explained largely by a major slowdown in the amount of oil being transported by rail due to the collapse in oil prices.

There are basically three categories of tank cars that make up the North American crude oil fleet.  The first is the legacy DOT-111s—the kind that derailed in Lac-Mégantic. The second is the modified DOT–111s tank cars (built since 2012), which comply with the industry’s CPC 1232 standard (both jacketed and non-jacketed).

The third category of tank car is the state-of the-art DOT-117 model, built to new more stringent US and Canadian specifications based on lessons learned from Lac-Mégantic and other major accidents. They have been in production since 2015 and will fully replace the other models by 2025.

The major slowdown in transportation of oil by rail due to slumping demand is likely to persist for at least the next few years. As a result of this slowdown, the large majority of North America’s crude oil tank car fleet is currently not in service carrying crude oil, and is presumably idle or carrying other dangerous products.

By the first quarter of 2016, the crude oil tank car fleet in service had plummeted to 19,710 from 57,401 in 2015. The number of CPC-1232 cars in crude oil service had shrunk to 17,000, from 40,000 in 2015.  These “slightly improved” legacy DOT-111s represent the vast majority (86%) of tank cars currently in crude oil service.

The number of legacy DOT 111 tank cars in crude oil service dropped to a miniscule 708 from 30,000 in 2015. This is what’s left to eliminate according to AAR vice-president, Robert Fronczak.[3]  These are the cars targeted by Transport Canada’s accelerated phase-out timetable.

The non-jacketed version of CPC-1232s will not be removed from service in Canada until April 1, 2020—almost 4 years away. The jacketed version will be on the rails carrying crude oil until May 1, 2025—almost 9 years from now.

Over 10,300 tank cars have been built or retrofitted since 2015 to the new DOT 117 standard.  Just 20% of these are currently available to haul crude oil. The rest are earmarked for other dangerous goods.

How safe are these CPC-1232 crude oil tank cars?

In May 2016, a unit oil train carrying 102 cars of Bakken crude derailed near the town of Mosier, Oregon.  A number of its cars punctured at a speed of 25 mph, spilling their contents, which exploded and burned, narrowly averting loss of life. These cars were jacketed CPC 1232 models.  They will be allowed to carry crude oil in Canada and the US until 2025.

Disturbingly, according to information from the Transport Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Directorate (TDG), most jacketed CPC–1232s will be considered to have reached DOT–117 standard (denoted as DOT 117R) after only “very minor adjustments if any.”

There are in fact significant differences between newly constructed TC–117 cars and the retrofitted CPC-1232s, which will be reclassified as DOT-117R.  The latter have a 1/8 inch thinner shell, making them more prone to puncture.  Furthermore, the new DOT–117s have a ceramic thermal blanket. The jacketed CPC–1232s have only a fiberglass-insulated blanket, which has prompted concerns that it constitutes a weaker protection against rupture.[4]

In February and March 2015 respectively, two separate CN trains carrying crude oil (bitumen and synthetic crude) and petroleum distillate from Alberta, derailed near the town of Gogama in Northern Ontario.  Many cars punctured and spilled their contents, which exploded and burned for days, poisoning the waterways and wildlife. These tanks cars were all built after 2011, most to the non-jacketed CPC–1232 standard. Their sister cars will be on Canadian tracks for almost another four years. The largest of the two accidents derailed and the cars punctured at a speed of 38 mph, well below the permissible speed of 50 mph.

Between now and 2025 when they are fully replaced, the “slightly improved” CPC–1232s (2020 for the non-jacketed version)—which are still prone to puncture at relatively low speeds as evident from recent accidents—will continue to transport the vast majority of crude oil through populated communities in North America.

The huge number of CPC-1232s sitting idle at the moment can easily be pressed into service, instead of replacing what remains of the legacy DOT-111s, to meet any foreseeable increase in demand over the next 14 months and beyond. Under these circumstances, the announced accelerated phase-out of legacy DOT-111s by 6 to 14 months seems mainly symbolic.

Since Lac-Mégantic , the measures Transport Canada has taken to assuage public anxiety over the risks inherent in the movement of oil by rail fall far short of what needs to be done.

Far from being a “crucial step” in enhancing rail safety, the accelerated tank car phase-out announcement by the Transport Minister is largely smoke and mirrors.

A truly meaningful step reflecting the urgency of their removal would be for Transport Canada to advance the 2025 phase-out deadline for all CPC-1232 tank cars to 2020, if not sooner.  “…We face an unacceptable risk until this effort is completed,” in the words of National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt.[5]

Unfortunately, tank car manufacturers are now reporting that, far from capacity bottlenecks there is currently excess capacity—cars already built are not all finding buyers.[6]  Why? Potential buyers are stalling; with the replacement deadline far down the road, costs are trumping safety.

The people of Lac-Mégantic could be faced with the resumption of unit trains carrying volatile oil in what are still far-from-safe tank cars, through their town beginning in less than six months.

The cynic in me is inclined to suspect that this announcement was designed to mollify a traumatized community and divert attention from fundamental reforms to the rail safety regime that have yet to be made; and from its obligation to commit to build a bypass around the town.

Bruce Campbell is a visiting fellow at the University of Ottawa faculty of law. On leave from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, he is a recipient of the Law Foundation of Ontario Community Leadership in Justice Award

[1] They are called TC-111s in Canada, but for this article I use the American designation, DOT-111 and DOT 117.
[2] http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/Rail-Tank-Car-Safety-Roundtable-Transcript.pdf
[3] http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/rtcsf-fronczak.pdf
[4] http://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/Rail-Tank-Car-Safety-Roundtable-Transcript.pdf
[5] Ibid
[6] Ibid

SRC Podcast with Ecojustice lawyer, Charles Hatt- Why Environmental Assessments are Vital to Public Safety

SRC is excited to launch a series of podcasts with rail safety news, views and interviews, hosted by Katie Andrews. In our first podcast, you'll hear from Ecojustice's lawyer, Charles Hatt, why environmental assessments are vital to public safety and the environment. We hope you find it informative.
  Listen to our Podcast!

Keep it Safe!
Safe Rail Communities Team

Letter to Minister McKenna

Response from Minister Mckenna


NEW: GTA Interactive Blast Zone Map

Ever wonder how many schools or hospitals fall within the Blast Zone? SRC has partnered with FracTracker Alliance to map these numbers in communities across Canada.

The first interactive map is ready (for the Greater Toronto Area), and more will be completed in the next couple of month.

SRC Newsletter August 2016


Hope you’re enjoying the summer weather! Since our last newsletter, there has been some developments on the rail safety front. We’d like to take this opportunity to provide you with an update.

Lac-Mégantic Anniversary

July 6 marked the 3rd anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. Its residents held a gathering to remember those who lost their lives, and to remind us all that so much more needs to be done.

Bruce Campbell, former director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, had the opportunity to speak in that gathering for Lac-Mégantic.

Transport Canada Developments

On July 25 Minister Garneau announced an accelerated phase out of the DOT 111 tank cars carrying crude oil. 

While this certainly is a move in the right direction, these tank cars will still be allowed to carry other flammable and dangerous goods until 2025. Furthermore, there is no mention of addressing the explosive nature of volatile crude oil, ethanol and other flammable substances.

Transport Canada published its Transportation of Dangerous Goods Newsletter (July 2016).  The focus of this edition is to provide an overview of the dangers of volatile crude oil; including a summary of Transport Canada’s final report on the analysis of crude oil. Take a look!

More News Articles of Interest...
CP track worker layoffs pose derailment risks: union (CBC)
74 runaway CN Rail cars rolled 5 km out of GTA yard, TSB says (CBC)
Canada needs further rail safety reforms: Editorial (Toronto Star)

GTA Interactive Blast Zone Map - Zoom in, and scroll through it here!

Ever wonder how many schools or hospitals fall within the Blast Zone? SRC has partnered with  FracTracker Alliance to map these numbers in communities across Canada.

The first interactive map is ready (for the Greater Toronto Area), and more will be completed in the next couple of months.

Let's Blow the Whistle!

On July 28th Ecojustice, on behalf of Greenpeace and Safe Rail Communities, launched a campaign calling on the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to designate all oil-by-rail facilities for an environmental assessment.

You can help us urge the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to take action by signing onto this letter.  

Thank you!

Oh! And, please stay tuned for more details of our upcoming 2nd annual Comedy Fundraiser!!!

Keep it safe,

Helen, Patricia, and the
Safe Rail Communities' Team


SRC Family Fundraiser (June 12)

On Sunday, June 12 from 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm, Safe Rail Communities will be holding a Family Fundraiser at Vine Ave. Playground in the Junction (Toronto). For more details, please click here

You can sign up to join our Hoop-a-thon team by sending us an email here requesting to join the team, and by sharing this link Donate to the SRC Hoop-a-thon Team   to collect sponsorships.  Anyone can be part of our team to raise funds to support our work in advocating for greater transparency and safeguards with respect to the transportation by rail of dangerous goods.

If you don't have a hoop, you can borrow one of ours.  We will have various hoop sizes, and will be offering free hooping lessons.

Bring a picnic blanket and grab a bite to eat from our BBQ. 

Check out the silent auction items generously donated by local businesses, while kids can participate in a number of activities.

Together with your help we can support our community and stand up for safe, transparent, and regulated rail.

For more information about us, please visit us at www.saferail.ca

Thank you!

Safe Rail Communities Team.

Rail Safety Week

April 28, 2016

Hello everyone,

Did you know it's Rail Safety Week?

Yesterday we had the pleasure of participating of a Joint Community Town Hall meeting on Rail Safety. The meeting was organized by MPs Carolyn Bennett and Chrystia Freeland, and had as guest speaker our Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau. We were happy for taking part on this discussion, and now hope to walk towards more meaningful progress from there.

Following Min. Garneau's encouragement to learn more about rail safety, we thought of sending you a timely reminder of some of the issues we've been working with. We'll also point out a few simple actions you can take with us towards ensuring public safety on our railways.

While there's been much talk on railway crossings improvements, we must also remember other issues that are crucial for insuring safe, transparent and regulated rails. 

Here are some of them:

  • The volatility of crude oil is a key risk factor for explosive derailments. We need a legislated safety-based standard for volatility, to compel industry to adopt the technology to reduce the volatility of crude oil transported. We also need to phase out unsafe tank cars immediately.
  • Unlimited absolute liability must be prescribed for rail carriers and shippers of dangerous goods; and they must have sufficient insurance to cover the full cost of a derailment in a densely populated area.
  • Government must strengthen oversight of the rail Safety Management System, and increase the number of onsite rail inspectors.
  • We need increased transparency and accountability. First Responders must have real-time data about dangerous goods shipments. Railway route analyses and risk assessments regarding the shipment of dangerous goods by rail must be open to the public.

Now, here are 6 ways in which you can take action on this Rail Safety Week:

Our on-line petition is available for you to read, sign and share. We're aiming 1,000 signatures by June, so we can send a strong message to Ottawa.

See the Petition!

Ask your MP to support rail safety in your community. We've gathered some recommendations you can take to your representative.


We've got the tools you need for starting your own Safe Rail initiative in your community. You'll learn how to engage residents, businesses, community groups, and government representatives.

Community Effort Tool

If you would like to get more involved, you can raise awareness in your community about rail safety through canvassing. We've gathered everything you need to start!

Canvass Strategy

From canvassing on your neighbourhood to participating in events, there are many ways you can lend a hand to support Safe Rail Communities. Contact us to get on board and help Safe Rail Communities.

Volunteer with us!

A donation made to support for Safe Rail Communities is support for our unwavering commitment to hold our government to account on this issue of public safety!

Donate today!

The easiest way to support Safe Rail Communities is to talk to family and friends and share our message through social media. You'll find the links bellow to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Through them, you'll be up to date on the latest news, our activities and accomplishments! You can also share our electronic brochure.

Share our Brochure

Remember, we're here to support you and work as a community. So you can always feel free to contact us with any question or suggestion.

Happy Rail Safety Week!

Keep it safe,

Safe Rail Communities' Team

SRC Update May 2016

Hello everyone.

We'd like to share with you some details of our efforts over the past month!
In our last update, we told you about a Joint Community Town Hall meeting that happened during Rail Safety Week (April 25-29). Our participation at the closed roundtable discussion led to a direct invitation from Minister Garneau for us to meet with the Directors General of both Rail Safety, and Transportation of Dangerous Goods departments. In this 90-minute meeting, we were able to share more personally with the Directorates our concerns and recommendations regarding rail safety. We feel very positively about Transport Canada's commitment to move forward with continued open dialogue, and look forward to another meeting in a couple of months.
A bit earlier in the month, we submitted a brief to the House ofto the House of Commons' Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities. In this brief, we shared our disappointment in the narrow scope of the Committee’s current mandate, and again our concerns and recommendations.

On Wednesday, May 18th, we delivered a presentation on Transport and Communication to the Senate Standing Committee. The mandate of this Committee is to examine and report on a strategy to get crude to refineries on the east and west coasts while sharing risks and benefits as broadly as possible across the country. We chose to focus on the risks involved, and what can be done immediately to make the transport by rail of dangerous goods safer.

Let's steam ahead!

Thank you to all who have signed either of our previous paper petitions, presented in the House of Commons! Since the federal implementation of e-petitions late last year, we now have Safe Rail Communities’ first electronic petition, sponsored by our MP, Arif Virani. This petition has been open for signatures since February, and will remain open until June 18th, when Arif will be able to present it in the House of Commons. Please help us continue to send a strong message to Parliament on this important issue of rail safety, sign our petition and feel free to invite your friends to do so too!

See the e-petition!

You can always contact your MP and let him/her know of your concern on this issue which falls under federal jurisdiction.

Find your MP!

To support our continued work on rail safety, you can also kindly consider helping us reach our annual fundraising goal of $5000 to cover the costs of our insurance and yearly expenses. Donate now!

Hoop for Safe Rail!

Finally, we are happy to share that our second annual Family Fun Fair will take place on Sunday, June 12th, from 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm at Vine Park, in the west end of Toronto. We'll have a BBQ, free activities for children, a hoop-a-thon, and a silent auction with awesome items generously donated by local businesses - including a vintage-style Cruiser donated by 3030 and Amsterdam Brewery! Please come out and join us if you’re in Toronto!
Remember, we're here to support you and work as a community. Please always feel free to contact us with any question, comment or suggestion.

Keep it safe,

Safe Rail Communities' Team

2016 Federal budget - Rail Safety

Terrific to see rail safety being addressed in the federal budget released yesterday! This is a good start. There's still much work to be done to ensure that there are effective investments made to rail safety. We've crunched the numbers, and $143 million (over the next 3 years) is a significant increase of approximately $47 million spent in the previous 3 years.

From the Federal Budget for 2016 (pg. 191):

Many cities and towns across Canada were established because of the railroad, and our communities have grown around railway infrastructure over time.
Railways remain critical to the Canadian economy, carrying more than one third of Canada’s trade to and from border crossings and marine ports. The tragic incident at Lac-Mégantic, on July 6, 2013, highlighted the importance of rail safety and the regulation of the transportation of dangerous goods.
Following recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, a number of actions have been undertaken, including the implementation of amendments to the Railway Safety Act along with new regulations and standards, and increased frequency of inspections of high-risk dangerous goods operations. Rail traffic volumes are expected to continue to increase, and there
are further Transportation Safety Board recommendations to be implemented. Canadians expect industry and government to take action to mitigate the risks associated with the movement of goods by rail through their neighbourhoods.
Budget 2016 proposes to provide $143 million over three years on a cash basis to sustain existing measures and support new and expanded activities to strengthen oversight and enforcement, and to enhance prevention and response capabilities related to rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods.
New measures will include: increased inspection capacity and improved training for stronger and more consistent oversight across the country; enhanced systems for testing, classifying, registering and mapping dangerous goods and their movements, to support better risk management; increased federal contributions for local investments in safer railway crossings to help prevent accidents; and additional support for first responders to provide better tools and the information required to better protect communities.

Click here to see the full 2016 federal budget