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Canada to boost rail safety after deadly oil blast


New stricter safety measures for shipping oil by rail across Canada are expected in response to the worst tanker train disaster in the country's history, it was reported Friday.

Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt told the daily Globe and Mail the change is an acknowledgement that crude oil is "a dangerous good, and should be treated as such."

She tasked officials with implementing the new rules by mid-2014, the newspaper said.

The change comes as trains are set to resume rolling again next week through Lac-Megantic, a Quebec town whose downtown area suffered a devastating rail disaster caused by a runaway train.

The crash on July 6 set off a huge explosion that killed 47 people. The inferno raged for two days, forcing the evacuation of 2,000 residents and destroying a large swathe of the town.

Raitt's spokeswoman Ashley Kelahear told AFP the minister met with officials last month "to discuss issues surrounding the transport of dangerous goods."

Kelahear said Raitt asked for recommendations for updating classifications of potentially dangerous goods, and tanker car standards.

The reform comes amid mounting concern about the safety of crude, increasingly shipped by rail, and warnings that the most commonly used tankers in North America should not carry flammable liquids.

A working group that includes Transport Canada, railways, firefighters and the oil industry, Kelahear said, is reviewing emergency response plans for transportation accidents involving oil.

A continuing investigation of the Lac-Megantic accident led authorities to the offices of Irving Oil in search of evidence the company may have skirted its obligation to properly label the cargo.

"Transport Canada has obtained a warrant to pursue its investigation and determine whether the rules and regulations set out in the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act were followed in the context of the Lac-Megantic tragedy," said Kelahear.

"Transport Canada is therefore carrying out its investigation at the offices of Irving Oil in Saint John, New Brunswick," she added.

Irving had been awaiting delivery of the crude oil from the Bakken shale fields of North Dakota at its refinery in easternmost Canada.

Safety officials in September blamed improperly labelled oil at least partly for the Lac-Megantic disaster, saying it should have been classed as a dangerous combustible substance instead of flammable -- the least dangerous category.

They noted that conventional crude oil should not have provoked as giant an explosion as was seen that night in the picturesque town of Lac-Megantic.

Raitt said at the time that Irving could face prosecution if a breach was confirmed.