The DOT-111A tanker car, the model that punctured and exploded in Lac-Mégantic killing 47 people last summer, makes up about 80 per cent of the Canadian fleet of railway cars.
And there are mounting concerns about the safety of these cars as rail shipments of oil in Canada have gone from about 6,000 train carloads in 2009 to an estimated 14,000 in 2013. The oil being transported includes both bitumen from the tar sands in Alberta and the Bakken shale gas formation in North Dakota and Montana.
But while the Transportation Safety Board has repeatedly warned that these cars are unsafe for transporting crude oil, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has not taken action to mandate their replacement.
There are reportedly 50,000 of these cars that need to be replaced or at least retrofitted. The Railway Supply Institute, which represents North American rail suppliers, has stated it could take 10 years to remove them all through a retirement or retrofit program.
But the president of Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the chair of the Transportation Safety Board chair say that's not acceptable.
FCM president Claude Dauphin says, "If they (the federal government) gave a time frame of a couple of years maximum, I think that would be reasonable. With all the attention from our Canadian citizens on that — all the concerns of my colleagues and mayors — politically speaking, it has to be very quickly." And CTSB chair Wendy Tadros warns, "A long and gradual phase-out of older-model cars simply isn't good enough."
And Unifor president Jerry Dias recently wrote, "Unifor encourages Hunter Harrison (the chief executive of Canadian Pacific Railway) to make a formal proposal to Lisa Raitt, the federal minister of transport, for an immediate moratorium on the use of DOT-111A cars. ...Better still, Harrison should be telling the oil companies that his rail line will no longer put the safety of its workers and the communities through which it operates in danger, by hauling the DOT-111A and will from this point forward refuse to accept the cars."
The situation is set to become worse.
At present, about 175,000 barrels of oil move by rail every day in Canada, but that could dramatically increase to about 900,000 barrels per day (surpassing the barrels per day capacity of the Keystone XL pipeline).