Experts weigh in on how to make the transportation dangerous goods safer
Alain Duguet and Gilbert Prince crisscrossed Canada and the United States together a number of times, two truck drivers cramped in a relatively small space.
They could chat for hours, getting into disagreements every now and then, but Prince was such a jovial person that he laughed even when he was upset, Duguet said.
“I’m talking about him in the past tense…” Duguet said. He sighed. His voice trailed off.
Prince died Tuesday when the truck he was driving, carrying thousands of litres of diesel fuel, exploded following a collision on Montreal’s Metropolitan highway.
These days, Duguet mainly delivers fruits and vegetables. He doesn’t transport dangerous goods and never has.
“You have to have nerves of steel. Gilbert was [better suited] for it than me. He’d say it’s a job like any other. No, not for me. I find it’s too dangerous,” he said.
How best to transport dangerous goods?
The fatal collision has raised questions about how dangerous goods are transported through Montreal, and whether they should be transported through the city at all.
Montreal is a hub for the distribution of refined products. Oil, for instance, is carried from the east-end Suncor refinery, and jet fuel is carried from the port to Trudeau Airport.
Though both federal and provincial regulations exist about the transportation of dangerous goods, Gilbert Prince wasn’t breaking any when he took the Metropolitan around 4 p.m.
That fact has led to questions: should we ban trucks carrying dangerous goods from travelling through the city at rush hour, when there are more cars and presumably a higher likelihood of collisions?
Is relegating them to off-peak hours any better? There may be fewer cars on the road, but those cars have room to speed, which could result in more spectacular accidents?
Pierre Aubin, vice-president of the Quebec trucking association, said it would not be financially viable to keep trucks off the roads at rush hour.
He said companies transporting goods will have too a limited window to get their products to their destinations. Transporting goods only at night would not work either, he said, since trucks make noise and nearby residents may complain.
But Jean-Paul Lacoursière, a chemical engineer and risk management consultant for the transportation of dangerous goods, said restricting the times when flammable or corrosive goods can be transported through Montreal would be a good idea.
“If there are less people [on the road], there’s less risk,” he said.
Driving on the Met: convenient, yet challenging
The Metropolitan highway cuts right through Montreal. As far as getting goods from one end of the island to the other, it’s one of the most direct routes.
Pedro Ruibal runs École de Routiers Montréal, a truck driving school. He said he drives on the Metropolitan almost every day and says it’s very dangerous.
“It’s very narrow, there is a lot [of traffic] coming into the Met and coming off,” he said.
Most drivers know truck drivers have to leave a greater stopping distance in front of them. Ruibal explained that distance changes with dangerous goods, especially if what’s inside is liquid.
Braking and accelerating creates waves inside a tanker, and those waves push the truck forward, making it more difficult to stop, he said. Drivers try to leave as much distance as possible so they don’t have to brake and create those waves.
But that is complicated by reckless drivers in cars. And there is no shortage of such drivers in Montreal, Duguet said.
“We’re up high, we see the situation. They are crazy. They gamble with their lives,” he said.
What are the options?
Vedat Verter, professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and an expert in transportation risk management, said Calgary may serve as a model for Montreal.
In that city, there are designated dangerous goods roads, where trucks must travel. They can only divert at the point necessary to reach their destination.
Other mitigation options he proposed include:
- An outright ban on trucks carrying dangerous goods on certain highways.
- Time-based curfews where trucks can only travel on certain highways at set times.
- Putting a toll on the Met that is more expensive than the one for Highway 30, which would incite truck drivers to avoid it unless absolutely necessary.
Duguet said not allowing trucks on certain highways during rush hour could work but would take some planning. Montreal doesn’t have many bypass routes except Highway 30, he said, and the toll means not everyone will take it.
‘I’ll think of him every day’
Duguet still drives on many of the roads he travelled together with Prince, and passes the places they stopped en route.
“I’ll think of him every day,” Duguet said. “I’ll have no choice.”
Duguet knew that whenever he returned home, Prince would bring his wife a bouquet of flowers. He visited Prince’s widow Thursday, a bouquet in tow.