Rapid rise in oil-by-rail shipments poses threat to public safety, warns TransCanada CEO – by Jeff Lewis (National Post – November 20, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

CALGARY – TransCanada Corp. is playing up anxiety over crude-carrying trains in an explicit warning that the growing number of tank cars crisscrossing the continent poses a risk to public safety.

TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling on Tuesday warned against tying up pipelines indefinitely, raising the spectre of more accidents as Alberta’s oil companies turn to rail to skirt chronic shortages of space on export conduits.

“I think there is a strong recognition across the political spectrum of the cost to the economy of not allowing market access in an efficient way,” Mr. Girling said Tuesday at the company’s investor day in Toronto. “We’ve seen an increase in rail movement, which has put the public safety at risk as well.”

The comments came on the same day an incident claimed the life of a CN Rail crewman at a switching accident near Tisdale, Sask.

Claude Mongeau, chief executive of CN Rail, defended the railway industry’s safety record at a separate conference in Toronto, despite a run of accidents and derailments in recent weeks.

Mr. Mongeau reiterated the industry’s argument that more than 99.9% of the dangerous goods shipped in the country — including a growing share of crude oil — arrive at their destination without incident.

Plans for new rail-loading capacity in Western Canada have proliferated despite lingering safety concerns and the prospect of increased regulation sparked by last summer’s fatal derailment in Quebec, in which a train filled with Bakken oil careened into the small town of Lac Mégantic, killing 47 people.

Mr. Mongeau described the accident as the most dramatic in North American rail history. “You cannot have an accident like Lac-Mégantic and not step back,” he said at the conference.

Rail’s role in North America’s energy boom has emerged as a key yardstick in the debate over the climate impact of TransCanada Corp.’s contentious Keystone XL project.

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