Senate energy committee calls for rail safety review in oil and gas report

OTTAWA – The federal government is being urged to take a hard look at rail safety in the wake of a disaster that devastated a small Quebec town this summer.

A Senate report released Thursday calls on Ottawa to commission an independent review of the regulations and industry practices of the country’s railways.

“Each major incident, whether in Canada or beyond our borders, must be carefully examined to learn what went wrong so that steps can be taken to prevent similar accidents in the future,” the document says.

“This is why the committee has recommended a major arm’s length review of safety in rail transportation.”

The report comes just weeks after an oil-laden freight train jumped the tracks and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic.

The July 6 disaster, which killed 47 people and led to a mass evacuation in the community of 6,000, has since prompted a criminal investigation and several lawsuits.

Although the study began last November, Conservative Sen. Richard Neufeld said the Lac-Megantic disaster weighed on he and his colleagues on the Senate energy committee as they wrote the report.

“We were pretty well done looking at all the things we wanted to look at and were in the process of writing the report when that terrible accident happened,” said Neufeld, chairman of the committee.

The explosion focused the committee on the use of rail cars and the issue of liability, he added. One of the report’s 13 recommendations is that rail companies have enough insurance to cover major accidents.

The Senate committee also notes that Transport Canada has yet to implement all the recommendations from a December 2011 report by former environment commissioner Scott Vaughan on transporting dangerous goods by rail.

Other recommendations relate to marine and pipeline safety. The report mentions the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and Trans Mountain expansion project as two routes intended to carry oil to the West Coast.

The study is also being released as Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. holds consultations over its proposed west-to-east oil pipeline.

The $12-billion Energy East pipeline would carry western crude oil all the way to the East Coast.

The company plans to convert roughly 3,000 kilometres of its natural gas main line to ship oil from Alberta to Quebec and build an additional 1,400 kilometres of new pipe to Saint John, N.B.

From there, the crude could feed Irving Oil’s massive refinery and be shipped offshore.

However, critics of the proposed pipeline say the potential environmental risks are too great.

The Senate committee held 13 hearings and heard from 51 visits as it prepared its report.