Trains with more than 19 wagons carrying dangerous goods are now restricted to 40km/h in open country and 32km/h in urban areas. The speed restriction was imposed at midnight on February 7 and runs for 30 days. The derailment occurred after a similar derailment and subsequent explosive fire in the same area on December 9 2019. Transportation Safety Board of CanadaTrains with more than 19 wagons carrying dangerous goods are now restricted to 40km/h in open country and 32km/h in urban areas. The speed restriction was imposed at midnight on February 7 and runs for 30 days. The derailment occurred after a similar derailment and subsequent explosive fire in the same area on December 9 2019.

“I am very concerned about the derailments of railway cars containing dangerous goods in the past 12 months,” Mr Marc Garneau, Canada’s transport minister, said on February 6. “That is why I am issuing an immediate order to slow trains carrying significant quantities of dangerous goods on federally regulated railway tracks across Canada. This is a precautionary measure being taken today, as we are seeing similarities between today’s accident in Guernsey, Saskatchewan, and other recent accidents such as weather conditions and speed. I have asked my officials to examine all issues related to these accidents to determine if additional safety measures will be required. I recognise there are economic impacts, but I cannot compromise on safety. I will not hesitate to take further swift action as is necessary.”

The derailed train was operated by Canadian Pacific (CP). The tank wagons in the accident were new TC-117J vehicles, which meet or exceed Transport Canada standards, spokespeople for CP and its customer ConocoPhillips told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on February 7. TC/DOT-117Js are built new to HM-251 standards, with a tank shell thickness of 14mm, 3mm thicker than a rebuilt TC/DOT-117R wagon, which is retrofitted to meet THM-251, with a 11mm tank shell thickness.

TC/DOT-117J tank wagon specifications

The Transport Canada slow order will frustrate the province of Alberta’s campaign to increase the flow of crude oil by rail to the United States. Alberta bitumen is a thick tar that is diluted by up to one-third with naptha or other low-value petroleum gases to make it liquid enough to load into tank wagons. It is such diluent that makes the bitumen shipments explosive.

Tank wagons are designed not to explode. If ruptured, breached or punctured in a derailment, the crude oil spills out. The oil, if diluted with volatile materials like naptha, can explode if ignited. Metal-to-metal contact, such as what occurs in a derailment with a wagon rupture, creates sparks that can be the ignition source.

“Until we better understand the facts relating to today’s incident, it is prudent to operate with an abundance of caution,” CP’s CEO, Mr Keith Creel, said on February 6. There were no injuries to the crew and no impact to waterways. However, about 85 nearby residents were evacuated due to air quality concerns.

The US Federal Railroad Administration is monitoring Canada’s investigation to determine whether additional regulatory measures should apply to oil trains crossing the border en route to US refineries.