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Time to 'aggressively phase out' old, unsafe tank cars carrying oil, says CN

OTTAWA - The head of safety for CN Rail says the railway industry wants to phase out older model tank cars that have been implicated in several recent accidents.

But the consensus at a forum on rail safety in Ottawa was that there's no quick fix for a decades-old problem that has almost 80,000 sub-standard tank cars carrying flammable liquids on North American tracks — and that the cost will eventually be borne by consumers.

A derailment and fire involving a CN train in northwestern New Brunswick last week has renewed calls for greater safety in the booming oil-by-rail trade, which became an international cause following last summer's disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt responded on the weekend by promising the government will formalize the standard for new tank car construction voluntarily adopted by the rail industry in October 2011.

But governments in Canada and the United States have been reluctant to deal with the huge number of older cars, known as DOT-111s, in part because of the cost and logistics of an overhaul.

Malcolm Cairns, the past president of the Canadian Transportation Research Forum, says government intervention will likely be needed to force the tank car leasing industry — which owns about 75 per cent of all tankers used in North America — to take on the billion-dollar-plus cost of retrofitting older cars to new safety specifications.

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