Officials are “reviewing” recommendations to improve the transport by rail of dangerous goods in the wake of last year’s tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says.

Raitt issued a statement Thursday afternoon to say the “safety of Canadians” is a priority for Transport Canada, which is now considering the recommendations contained in a report issued Thursday by the Transportation Safety Board.

“The department is committed to doing all it can to maintain and enhance the safety of Canada's rail sector,” Raitt said.

TSB chair Wendy Tadros told reporters Thursday morning that investigators “still have months ahead of us” in the investigation into the crash. However, the agency wanted to issue the three recommendations because “in today’s environment, action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.”

The first of the agency’s three recommendations calls for tougher standards be put in place for the DOT-111 tank cars that carry flammable material, including crude oil. The cars involved in the Lac-Megantic crash were DOT-111s, and nearly all of them were “breached” in several places, causing “catastrophic” deformations that led to oil leaks, which in turn fuelled the fire, Tadros said.

“The TSB and the NTSB have repeatedly pointed out the problems with the vulnerability of these tank cars,” Tadros said. “With this investigation, the scientific case becomes stronger still. In fact, irrefutable.”

Tadros added that “a long and gradual phase-out of older-model cars simply isn’t good enough. It leaves too much risk in the system.”

In her statement, Raitt said that on Jan. 10, Transport Canada proposed new standards for the DOT-111 cars, including that they be constructed of thicker steel, in addition to other protections.

"Transport Canada continues to work with all its stakeholders, including officials in the United States, as we look together to what additional requirements may be needed for the North American fleet,” Raitt said.

The TSB also recommends:

  • better route-planning for trains carrying dangerous goods, to ensure safe operation of the train and to minimize risk to residential communities.
  • that emergency response assistance plans (ERAPs) be put in place along routes where large volumes of liquid hydrocarbons, such as oil, are being shipped, in order to minimize the severity and the impact of a spill of fire.

“If North American railways are to carry more and more of these flammable liquids through our towns and through our cities, it must be done safely,” Tadros said.

NDP transport critic Olivia Chow said in a statement Thursday afternoon that “we fully support the recommendations issued by both Canadian and U.S. authorities.

“The Conservatives must take immediate action to stop the shipping of highly flammable crude oil using the old and unsafe DOT 111 tank cars. Inaction is no longer an option. Keeping Canadians safe must be the top priority of the government.”

The recommendations were made in conjunction with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board in what the Canadian agency calls “an unprecedented move.” The TSB says that as the amount of crude oil shipped across North America goes up, “coordinated solutions” are required.

According to the TSB, 500 carloads of crude oil were shipped by rail in Canada in 2009. In 2013, 160,000 carloads of oil were shipped in Canada.

Tadros acknowledged that the TSB can only make recommendations, but it is up to Transport Canada to implement changes in rail-safety regulations.

“It is our responsibility, and that’s what we’ve done in our investigation, to identify the safety issues and bring forward the recommendations aimed at ameliorating those safety problems,” she said.

Tadros also said that as the investigation into the Lac-Megantic crash continues, the TSB could issue further recommendations.

In her statement, Raitt pointed out that immediately after the Lac-Megantic accident, Transport Canada asked railway operators to make changes, such as improve their safety standards and better communicate with municipalities, emergency responders and other stakeholders.

Transport Canada also established three working groups, which are to report back to Raitt at the end of January with recommendations for improving safety over both the short- and long-term