By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, March 14 (Reuters) - Canada will bring in new rules making it easier to quickly shut down unsafe railroads, the government said on Friday, eight months after 47 people died in the Lac-Megantic, Quebec, crude-by-rail disaster.
Once the regulations come into force later this year, all rail companies operating on federally regulated railroads will require a valid Railway Operating Certificate, the transport ministry said in a statement.
In case of serious problems, Transport Canada "could suspend or cancel the company's operating certificate. This could put an immediate stop to the company's railway operations in Canada," it said.
Under current regulations, the ministry's only option to deal with companies that flout safety rules is prosecution. The ministry is responsible for overseeing 31 rail networks and said it estimated that 66 companies operating trains on those networks would need the new certificates.
While railways under federal jurisdiction must show they have enough insurance to operate, "there are no requirements to ensure that baseline safety standards are in place prior to companies beginning operation", the ministry said.
An official watchdog said last November that Canada was not doing enough to ensure rail safety. It cited inadequate audits, ill-trained staff and too little focus on high-risk railroads.
Last July, a train carrying crude oil, with no operator on board, moved off by itself from where it had been parked overnight. It later derailed and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.
The disaster generated questions about how closely Transport Canada had been watching the railway involved - the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic - before the disaster. A subsequent investigation found that some of the track operated by the company was in poor condition and did not meet safety standards.
Federal railways carry more than 50 percent of goods transported by land in Canada, the world's second largest country. The network has 44,000 km (27,300 miles) of track.
Transport Canada said companies had been aware of the proposal to require operating certificates since Ottawa first recommended them in 2008. Railways will have two years to gain a certificate.