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Trucks not immune from TDG review

Last summer’s tragedy at Lac-Megantic has added some urgency to the debate over which mode should be used to ship crude oil. How this plays into the decisions on the Keystone XL, Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain Expansion pipelines,...

Last summer’s tragedy at Lac-Megantic has added some urgency to the debate over which mode should be used to ship crude oil. How this plays into the decisions on the Keystone XL, Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain Expansion pipelines, remains to be seen.  The safety performance of the railways has never been under greater scrutiny. But, the trucking industry is also not immune.

Trucks are major haulers of crude oil in Canada. In fact, during the mid-stream stage of product development – where crude oil emulsion is shipped over short distances from the wellhead to the battery where it is “cleaned” and/or “treated” – virtually all of it is handled by trucks.

At these distances the rates between truck and rail are comparable. Trucks are more reliable in terms of delivery times. After being treated, if the battery is a pipe-connected facility, the crude is moved by pipeline to the refineries and trucks are no longer involved. However, if the battery does not have a connection to a pipeline, trucks are used to transport the crude (again over a relatively short distance) from the battery to a pipeline or to a trans-load facility where it is transferred to a rail car.

The long-distance transportation of crude oil to refineries is handled by one of two modes – pipeline or rail – primarily due to their ability to handle large volumes. Trucks are really not an economical option for such movements and will never displace pipelines or rail in that market. Even if truckers wanted to, there are not enough roads, trucks or drivers to handle the traffic. As such, crude isn’t viewed as a growth area for truckers the way it is by the railways.  

Notwithstanding, it is also unlikely an incident of the magnitude of Lac-Megantic could occur where trucks are involved. The amount of product being shipped by truck in a single shipment is small compared to a train of tank cars. A train of 80-120 rail cars would carry the equivalent of 160-240 truck tank trailers.

Using 2012 data, the frequency and severity of dangerous goods incidents involving trucks is extremely low – about 1.64 incidents per 10,000 shipments and 56.4% were minor (less than 500 litres). The frequency of incidents caused by accidents on the highway (where the public is most at risk) is also extremely low – 53 incidents (16.2% of total incidents) for a frequency of 0.27 per 10,000 shipments. Almost 68% of the accidents involved Class 3, flammable liquids (mainly crude oil), but 93.6% were minor incidents.

Overall, this suggests the trucking industry and the dangerous goods regulations are doing an effective job of incident prevention.  Still, the trucking industry will come under scrutiny over the next few months during the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport hearings into safe transportation of dangerous goods by all modes. CTA will be representing the industry’s interests. The industry uses the country’s roads and highways, and therefore shares its workplace with the public. With this comes a responsibility to ensure that our drivers and vehicles are operating safely – whether the trucks are hauling dangerous goods or not.

CTA will re-state its strong support for a universal EOBR mandate; a manufacturing standard (in lock-step with the US) for roll stability; mandatory activation of truck speed limiters at no more than 105 km/h and mandatory entry-level training for truck drivers.

With regard to the TDG regulations, enforcement of shipper responsibilities is weak and needs to be beefed up. Too often, carriers and drivers are getting nailed at roadside for violations that rest with shippers who do not provide proper documentation; or don’t have the requisite knowledge of the regulations or sometimes even their own product.

The regulations also compel carriers to certify drivers receive dangerous goods training. CTA believes consideration should be given to making sure those who provide training (whether in-house or third-party) are qualified to do so.

Finally, CTA feels it is contrary to the public interest to allow clauses in freight contracts that exempt shippers from liability brought about by their own negligence. As witnessed in the Lac-Megantic case, dangerous goods incidents can be particularly severe and the claims enormous. It is imperative that the negligent party or parties bear the liability for claims. Coordinated action is required by the federal and provincial governments to annul such clauses.

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