Moving full speed ahead with its increased review and regulation of rail transport, the Canadian government released an emergency directive that requires additional safety measures for unattended trains. For the first time, the directive includes specific requirements for the minimum number of handbrakes that must be set on unattended trains, based on the train’s tonnage and the grade of the ground. Additionally, unattended trains must be secured by at least one physical barrier or other mechanism, such as a mechanical lock parking brake. In the event that emergency responders come into contact with the equipment, the directive requires that a railroad employee must re-verify that the equipment is secured. 

The Canadian regulations are similar to an emergency order that the U.S. Federal Railway Administration released in August 2013, less than a month after the Lac-Megantic derailment in Quebec. Under the U.S. system, trains cannot be left unattended unless the railroad has an approved process for securing unattended trains. As in Canada, if an emergency responder comes into contact with the equipment, the U.S. emergency order mandates that a qualified railroad employee inspect the equipment before the train can be left unattended. However, unlike the Canadian system, which sets a national standard for handbrake requirements, the U.S. order allows the railways themselves to set the minimum number of handbrakes required based on the tonnage, terrain, and weather conditions. 

In announcing the parameters of the emergency directive, the Canadian Minister of Transport also stated that the department would add 10 employees “with specific training in railway safety management audits.” Additionally, the department will launch an inspection campaign of crude oil shipments to verify the classification of the load. The ministry has not yet released details of this inspection campaign, and it is not known at this point whether the inspections will be executed by government agents or, as in the system proposed by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), if the railway companies themselves will be responsible for developing an implementing an inspection program.

The Canadian emergency directive expires in six months, and must be replaced with a permanent rule before it expires. Meanwhile, the comment-period recently closed on the U.S. PHMSA’s proposed rule-making for the regulation of tank-cars; the issuance of a final rule may take several years.