The Manitoba government welcomed news Friday that Ottawa will designate crude oil a highly dangerous substance and introduce tougher safety measures for shipping it by rail.
The federal announcement comes five months after a train carrying 72 oil tankers derailed and caught fire in Lac-Mégantic, Que., killing 47 people and levelling much of the downtown.
Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told the Globe and Mail there need to be higher safety standards to deal with the massive growth in oil being shipped by rail through Canadian cities and towns.
She has asked a special working group inside Transport Canada to come up with an Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP) for crude oil. She has given the department until the end of January to formulate the plan, which will move oil to the highest level of dangerous goods, and expects the new regime governing oil shipments to be in place by mid-2014.
"The announcement today is a very positive step," Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton told reporters Friday at the legislative building.
But while he’s pleased that Ottawa has recognized that crude oil is a hazardous commodity, he said he hopes their efforts don’t end there.
Ottawa has promised that information will be provided regularly to municipalities on the nature of rail shipments through their jurisdictions. But Ashton says the feds need to go further.
"We do believe there’s a need for real time identification of the specific nature of goods going through communities ... (so) we can respond appropriately and our emergency responders know what they’re dealing with," he told reporters.
The federal government should also ensure that all crude oil rail cars are properly reinforced to carry the flammable product, he said.
Ashton said the new federal initiative will not change Manitoba’s opposition to crude oil shipments by rail to the Port of Churchill.
Omnitrax, which owns the port and the rail line leading to it, was to begin shipping oil in October. It has postponed those plans.
The province has expressed concerns about the reliability of the line, built on muskeg, and the ability of first responders to quickly reach any spill in the remote region.
"We strongly support the Port of Churchill but we’re not supporting the specific initiative they have of moving crude oil through the port," Ashton said.