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Letter to the editor of The Hill Times regarding Watchlist 2018

07 November 2018

Ms. Kate Malloy
The Hill Times
246 Queen Street
Suite 200
Ottawa, ON  K1P 5E4

Dear Ms. Malloy,

On 29 October 2018 the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its bi-annual Watchlist of the key safety issues that need to be addressed to make Canada's air, marine, pipeline and rail transportation systems even safer.

To draw up the Watchlist, the Board conducts a rigorous evaluation of whether and how strongly the regulator and industry have taken the actions required to reduce the risk an issue poses—and the extent to which those actions have actually had an effect. Our statistics and investigations into related occurrences provide data on any safety deficiencies that may remain.

If this evaluation shows that measures have not been adequate to reduce the risk an issue poses to people, property, and the environment, the issue remains on the Watchlist. If, on the other hand, the data show that effective steps have been taken, the issue is removed.

After the Lac-Mégantic accident, Watchlist 2014 called on Transport Canada to ensure flammable liquids were being safely transported by requiring railway companies to properly classify these products, ship them in safe containers, and conduct route risk assessments to proactively mitigate risks. The Board kept the transportation of flammable liquids by rail on Watchlist 2016 to ensure these measures were taken.

In the first six months of 2018, less than seven per cent of crude was moving in the more vulnerable tank cars (i.e., DOT 111s and unjacketed CPC-1232s). With Transport Canada's Protective Direction (September 2018), the timetable for eliminating these more vulnerable cars from the transportation of flammable liquids altogether moved up to 1 November 2018 (from April 2020) for crude oil and to 1 January 2019 (from 1 May 2025) for condensate.

Over 90 per cent of the most vulnerable tanks cars used to transport crude oil have now been removed from that service (these cars may continue to be used to carry other kinds of products). Since the two CN accidents in Northern Ontario in February and March 2015, there has been one main-track train accident involving a spill of crude oil; in this case, only a small amount of product was released.

The Board removed the issue from Watchlist 2018 because its evaluation shows that Transport Canada—and the industry—have taken the actions the TSB had called for.

The Board has also found that Transport Canada has provided fully satisfactory responses to its recommendations for better route planning and analysis as well as the implementation of emergency response assistance plans.

At the same time, railway companies have increased targeted track inspections and conducted more route planning and risk assessments; they have also reduced the number of single-product (unit) trains carrying crude oil.

It bears repeating that it is Transport Canada's mandate, not the TSB's, to oversee the industry. Whether an issue is on the Watchlist or not, it is up to Transport Canada to do risk assessments, inspections, and audits, and take required enforcement measures to ensure the safety of the rail transportation system.

Taking an issue off the Watchlist doesn't mean that the Board ever stops watching: on the contrary, the TSB will continue to monitor closely the transportation of flammable liquids by rail through its assessment of outstanding recommendations and reported occurrences and during its investigations and interactions with industry stakeholders. If the risk increases in future, there's nothing to stop the Board putting the issue on the Watchlist again.


The original version was signed by
Kathleen Fox
Transportation Safety Board of Canada