By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian and U.S. officials will introduce new safety standards for the kind of tanker cars involved in a recent spate of fiery oil-by-rail accidents "fairly soon", Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
The focus is on whether to require older versions of the DOT-111 tankers to be upgraded to stronger standards or phased out. Since October 2011, new cars have been built to safer requirements, but the vast majority of cars used are of the older variety deemed more vulnerable to leaks and explosions.
Raitt also said it was possible that the more volatile crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota might need to go in a safer car altogether.
The question of the safety of oil by rail, growing rapidly as production in North Dakota and Western Canada rises without a concomitant increase in pipeline capacity, came to the fore again after Tuesday's derailment in New Brunswick, involving cars carrying crude oil and liquefied petroleum gas.
Raitt has been talking the issue over with U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and she told CBC Radio in Saturday's broadcast that she would be discussing it further with him.
"If it's something about retirement of stock, if it is about retrofitting of stock or replacement of stock, those are the things that are on the table. Those are the things we're discussing with the U.S. administration," she said.
"And we hope to be coming forward fairly soon with respect to what we'd like to do."
North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven said on Thursday that Foxx had promised tougher standards on the DOT-111s "in weeks, not months.
Because of the unified nature of the U.S.-Canadian market, with cars traveling across the borders sometimes more than once in a trip, the two countries have to act together on tank car regulations.
Among the derailed cars in Tuesday's Canadian National Railway Co accident were three DOT-111 cars built to the higher standards and two older ones, but it was not yet clear whether the newer ones fared any better.
The question of the safety of transporting Bakken oil came to prominence in July, when a runaway train carrying Bakken light crude exploded in the heart of the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47. That train included DOT-111 cars.
"Perhaps where we end up getting is maybe these cars aren't acceptable for this kind of oil. I don't know what the answer to that is. It's certainly something that's being looked at in the United States, and it's being looked at by us as well," Raitt said.
Opposition New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Olivia Chow said on the same CBC program that the important thing was to set out a timetable for cars to be upgraded or phased out, whether it was six months or a year or two.
"If we don't put a deadline, then things won't get done," she said.
(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Krista Hughes)