01/09/2014 01:40 EST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Rail Safety Needs Government Enforcement Not 'Luck,' Mulcair Says


Federal Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair criticized previous governments for allowing rail companies to police their own safety and called on Ottawa to take a more active role in doing that job.

"We shouldn't have to rely on our luck to protect us," he said, referring to the latest train derailment, which occurred Tuesday near the village of Plaster Rock, N.B. No one was hurt.

Mulcair said municipalities must be warned when trains carrying hazardous materials are going through their communities.

To do that, he added, the Conservative government must work with municipalities. But he said the government doesn't know how to work with them.

Mulcair pointed out transportation of crude oil by rail and pipeline can be done safely but it needs to be done right.

He suggested the government follow the American lead and introduce a new generation of tanker rail cars that would replace the inadequate Dot 111 cars. He also said new braking systems are needed.

But most importantly, Mulcair said the government needs to make sure all of this is happening.

"Put in place the requirements and enforce them on behalf of the public," he said. "The time for excuses is over. Now is the time to act."

The cause of the New Brunswick derailment has yet to be determined, but fire from exploding fuel tankers is becoming an uncomfortably familiar scene.

On July 6 last year, a freight train carrying fuel tanks loaded with crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota rolled out of control into the centre of Lac Mégantic, Que. The ensuing explosions and fire destroyed the downtown and killed 47 people.

In October, an explosive derailment happened near Gainford, Alta. About 100 people were forced to leave their homes.

And on Dec. 30, a series of train cars carrying Bakken crude oil exploded outside Casselton, N.D., when they went off the tracks.

Two and a half weeks after the Lac-Megantic derailment, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive requiring two operators to be on all trains with tank cars carrying dangerous materials. It also prohibited similar trains from being left unattended on main lines.

The emergency directive expired at the end of 2013, but was renewed on Jan. 1 for all rail companies that are not members of the Railway Association of Canada. That's because the RAC submitted new operating rules in November. Non-RAC members have until March to do the same.

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