US, Canada team up to avoid 'major loss of life'
U.S. and Canadian safety officials are calling for more stringent measures to prevent "a major loss of life" from oil train wrecks, like the one that devastated a town in Quebec, killing 47 people.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Canada's Transportation Safety Board identified "three critical weaknesses" in the North American rail system—fortifying tank cars that transport flammable liquids, better planning and analysis of routes carrying potentially hazardous substances, and more comprehensive emergency response plans.
NTSB officials warned that "a major loss of life" could ensue if changes aren't implemented.
In July, 47 people were killed after a runaway oil train derailed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, creating a massive explosion that incinerated 30 buildings.
(Read more: Train disaster brings scrutiny to oil-by-rail boom)
In December, an oil train derailed in a fiery conflagration near Casselton, N.D., the heart of the booming shale country known as the Bakken Formation. Although no one was hurt, the derailment was a recent reminder of the dangers associated with the surge in U.S. oil and gas production.
(Read more: Danger on the rails: New rules could hit stocks)
The NTSB took the unusual step of issuing the recommendations jointly with its Canadian counterpart, given the interconnected crude shipments between the countries.
As the energy sector booms, attention has shifted toward how oil and gas get transported. Industry experts say rail affords producers with more flexibility, particularly as pipeline expansions get ensnared in political questions. Meanwhile, studies have shown that crude transport is quicker by rail than via pipeline.
"If North American railways are to carry more and more of these flammable liquids through our communities, it must be done safely," the Canadian TSB said in a statement. "Change must come and it must come now."
—By CNBC's Javier E. David.