We’re glad to see that some railroads and oil shippers are acting on their own to reduce the threat of accidents involving tanker cars, like the disastrous one that destroyed a town and killed 47 people in Quebec last year.
But voluntary actions aren’t enough. The federal government must require leasing companies and shippers who own the older tanker cars that have been involved in this and other accidents, to either take them out of service or retrofit them with safety features.
The problems with these tankers have been known for a long time and caused the rail industry in 2011 to voluntarily adopt tougher standards that include a thicker, more puncture-resistant tank shell. But these account for just 14,000 of the 92,000 tank cars now out there.
And these older cars are more active than ever, crisscrossing the country, including the Capital Region, with hydrofracked oil, some of it highly explosive, from North Dakota, Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Texas, southern Canada and other places. Nearly 1 million barrels a day are currently moved this way, and the amount is growing fast.
Derailments damage tracks and the environment, can cost millions to clean up, and are terrible public relations. So U.S. railroads have been responding.
Canadian Pacific next month will start levying a surcharge on shippers whose tank cars don’t meet the latest industry safety standards. And last week the industry announced a voluntary agreement with the federal Department of Transportation to take several safety steps, including lower speed limits in urban areas and the use of technology to find safer routes for trains with the older tanker cars.
This is better, but not good enough. All tankers — not just newer ones but older ones as well — need the latest safety features now, and only the federal government can require that. It should.