The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada had recently released its statistical report regarding the railway occurrences in 2013. The report confirmed what everyone’s been speculating – that the number of rail accidents and fatalities rose in Canada last year.
All in all, there were 1,067 reported rail accidents to the TSB which is 4% higher compared to 2012 that had only recorded 1,027 rail accidents. Accounting to 70% of the rail accidents were freight trains, 4% were passenger trains, and the remaining percentage accounted to other automobile units.
Rail accidents involving dangerous goods have also significantly increased to 144 compared to the 119 recorded count in 2012. Seven accidents involving dangerous goods release were tallied in 2013 wherein five of the accidents involved petroleum crude oil. Compared to the two accidents in 2012, last year’s count is upped due to the increased dangerous goods shipment of crude oil by rail.
On the other hand, rail fatalities totaled 127 in 2013 compared to 2012’s count of 83. Rail fatalities have mainly increased due to the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013 that claimed 47 lives. The Lac-Megantic accident involved a runaway train shipping hazardous goods, specifically the crude oil, in the said area. The train was derailed off the tracks, then exploded.
The Lac-Megantic accident only proves that main-track collisions and derailments are the most serious categories of rail accidents that pose great risk to the life of the public, as well as financial loss. Despite an increase in rail fatalities, there were only four main-track collisions in 2013 which is relatively lower compared to 2012’s count of six. No fatalities or serious injuries, and dangerous goods release were recorded main-track collisions.
However, there were a total of 92 accidents recorded in non-main-track collisions. Though there’s a total of 92, this is down from 101 in 2012. Twenty-eight percent of the non-main-track collisions is involved in dangerous goods shipment, one of which caused a release of sodium chlorate.
On the other hand, there is a 26% increase in last year’s main-track derailments. TSB recorded a total of 83 main-track derailments compared to 2012’s total of 66. The Lac-Megantic accident comprised all of the 47 recorded fatalities resulting from main-track derailments in 2013.
As for the non-main-track derailments, there were 520 non-main-track derailments which is 2% higher compared to 2012. Eighteen percent of the non-main-track derailments is involved in dangerous goods cars, one of which resulted in a release of liquefied petroleum gas. No fatalities or serious injuries resulted from non-main-track derailments in 2013 though.
Aside from the track collision and derailment occurrences, crossing accidents account to 20% of rail accidents resulting to serious or fatal injuries. Last year’s crossing accidents were down to 188 compared to the 190 total in 2012. Crossing accidents occur at either public or private crossings due to high vehicle and train traffic volumes.
Trespasser accidents also decreased. From a total of 74 accidents in 2012, it was down to 58 in 2013. The TSB defined trespasser accidents as people or pedestrians who are not authorized to be on railway rights-of-way and who are struck by rolling stock other than at railway crossings.
The TSB also provided data regarding dangerous goods (DG) leaker incident. DG leaker incident is defined as the unintentional release of a hazardous material while in transit where there is no accident. Last year’s DG leaker incident is upped by a single count (94) compared to the total of 93 in 2012. Most of the DG leaker incidents involved the release of petroleum crude oil.
These statistical data only show that changes should be made regarding the US rail safety. But the US government has already began to take action since the occurrence of the Lac-Megantic accident. The Lac-Megantic accident had served as the wake-up call among the US rail safety team.
Concerns to change the railway regulations when it comes to transporting hazardous materials have been raised for years but nothing happened until the Lac-Megantic incident. Crude oil transportation is not the only one that poses great risks to the public. Even the shipment of radioactive transport materials and blood transport materials are marked as hazardous. Biological transportation and blood transportation should also be given concerns.
Among the solutions to improve the US rail safety is to create new tank car designs. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) is innovating new tank car designs for improved safety. The NSTB have said that poor tank designs could create unacceptable public risks like what happened to the Lac-Megantic crash. Aside from the new tank car designs, modifications have also been made in terms of railway speed restrictions and inspections. Freight trains carrying hazardous products are also prompted to fix their dangerous goods declaration papers.