Railway Companies’ Bottom Line Continues to Trump Safety

•November 19, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded secret keep a photoIn spite of local municipalities, fire departments and other first responders, politicians and rail safety experts pressing Transport Canada and Canadian rail companies to provide real-time information on what dangerous goods railways are moving through our cities, towns and villages, Canadian Pacific Railway, Canadian National Railway and Transport Canada refuse to provide these data (Toronto Star). The information is essentially kept secret until an accident occurs, which is often too late.

Groups like Safe Rail Communities* think any information that would make our rails safer should be made public, particularly following last year’s disastrous derailment, spill, fires and explosions that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Railroaded hazardous materials sign imageQuebec. And the situation is getting worse, as Canadian rail companies transport more and more dangerous, hazardous, toxic and flammable goods across Canada, including crude oil.

Transport Canada does not even require railways to disclose their insurance coverage in the event of accidents because that information is considered commercially sensitive. Nor does Transport Canada release information on track maintenance and inspection reports, as they contain what rail companies consider third-party and commercial information. Transport Canada has repeatedly been criticized for letting the rail industry monitor its own safety.

When asked about the secrecy surrounding rail company emergency plans, York University associate professor Mark Winfield said, “The issue again goes to basic issues of accountability and the balance between the economic interests of the railways and the safety interests of the public being struck in the plans.” Peggy Nash, NDP MP for Parkdale-High Park said the Lac-Mégantic tragedy shone a light on Transport Canada’s “lack of enforcement and poor safety culture”. People have lost trust in the government systems designed to protect the public, she said.

As long as Transport Canada continues to let rail companies’ bottom line trump rail safety, the public and the environment will continue to be subjected to derailments and associated spills, fires and explosions.

Railroaded Safe Rail Communities logo image*Visit the Safe Rail Communities website at this link.

Five More Canadian National Railway Derailments Reported in Past Four Weeks

•November 18, 2014 • Comments Off

As Canadian National Railway ramps up its crude oil shipments across North America, the corporation continues to be dogged by derailments. The following 5 CN derailments in Canada were reported during the past 4 weeks:

1.  November 17, 2014: Two locomotives collided near CN’s Symington Yard in Winnipeg, Manitoba, injuring an engineer who was sent to the hospital. (Winnipeg Free Press)

Railroaded CN derailment Terrace nov 15 2014 image2.  November 15, 2014: Twenty-six intermodal cars and one locomotive derailed east of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The derailed cars carried distiller grain, lumber, pulp and rolls of paper. The derailment disrupted CN operations for about 24 hours. (BC Local News)

3.  November 8, 2014: Sixteen cars derailed while entering CN’s Gordon Yard in Moncton, New Brunswick – 10 were loaded with crude oil and 6 cars for transporting automobiles were empty. Over 150 litres of crude oil spilled from one of the derailed cars. The Moncton Fire Chief complained that his department was not contacted by CN about the derailment even though 10 of the derailed cars were filled with flammable product. The fire department was finally contacted over 7 hours following the derailment by a contractor hired to transfer oil from the damaged tank car to a spare car. It took about 2 days to clean up the tracks. (CBC NewsCBC News 2)

4.  October 26, 2014: Nine cars derailed about 130 km north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. One of the derailed cars spilled an undisclosed volume of diesel fuel. It is not known whether any of the fuel spilled into nearby waterbodies. Another one of the derailed cars was loaded with sulphuric acid. It took over 3 weeks to clean up the derailment site, including mobile vacuum units trying to remove spilled diesel fuel. (Soo TodaySoo Today 2)

5.  October 21, 2014: Three cars derailed at an intersection in southeast Calgary, Alberta, closing 52nd Street to vehicular traffic in both directions. One derailed car was loaded with oil, one with automobiles, and a third car was empty. (Calgary Herald)

For more information on CN derailments in Canada and the U.S., see CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents.

Major Canadian National Railway Derailment and Fire in Saskatchewan

•October 7, 2014 • Comments Off

Railroaded CN derailment Wadena Sask oct 7 2014 imageThis morning, a CN train carrying dangerous goods derailed near Clair and Wadena, Saskatchewan, sending plumes of smoke at least 30 metres into the air and forcing residents from their homes (CBC NewsCTV News).

The train consisted of three locomotives and 100 cars – 26 cars derailed. An explosion and fire came from petroleum distillates which spilled from two of the derailed cars. The fire was huge according to local sources, and was still burning this evening. Local officials were worried about the toxic smoke and kept people eight kilometres away from the scene. About 50 people from Clair were evacuated, as well as others from farm homes in the area. Evacuated people were sent to an operations and reception centre set up in Wadena. School students in Wadena were kept indoors during the day, as a precaution. Local farmers were worried about the safety of their livestock. Huge plumes of thick, black, heavy smoke and fire were reported as local fire departments wrestled with the fire. Provincial officials said detours would remain in place until the area is safe.

Six of the derailed cars were loaded with hazardous materials, four with either hydrochloric acid or caustic soda and two with petroleum distillates. CN refuses to provide real-time data on the hazardous materials they haul across the country, which means municipal fire departments are often left guessing what materials they must deal with in order to protect local residents whenever there is a derailment and spill such as this one.

The advocacy organizations, Transport Action Canada and Environmental Defence, expressed serious concerns about the derailment and about rail safety in general in Canada. Adam Scott of Environmental Defence said, rail companies like CN are not required to publicly disclose the types of hazardous materials being transported on trains. “It’s unacceptable. The municipalities themselves, the communities have no power, no control, and in this case no information even over what’s being run through the rail lines.” Harry Gow of Transport Action Canada, said, “I would say that if one wants to ensure safety in moving hazardous goods, one has to have inspectors who are empowered to do the work, that are trained to do more than just check the company’s paperwork, and are sufficiently numerous and well-resourced to get out on the ground and see what’s going on. The incident in Saskatchewan today is fortunately not occurring in a large town, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of oversight by Transport Canada.”

This is the sixth reported CN derailment in Saskatchewan and the 29th reported CN derailment in the Prairie Provinces during the past year. CN does not report many of its derailments, so the actual number is undoubtedly higher. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for details of hundreds of other Canadian National Railway derailments, spills and fires in Canada and the U.S.

Second Canadian National Railway Derailment in One Day in Alberta

•September 26, 2014 • Comments Off

It’s almost impossible to keep up with the number of reported Canadian National Railway derailments in Alberta. The latest occurred this afternoon near Wildwood west of Edmonton, when 15 cars loaded with coal derailed and spilled coal all over the tracks (Global Edmonton). The extent of environmental damage was not disclosed.

Railroaded reported earlier today about another CN derailment near Vermilion that occurred last night, less than 24 hours before the one near Wildwood. That derailment involved 17 to 20 CN cars loaded with peas.

These are the 20th and 21st reported CN derailments in Alberta in less than a year. It is well known that CN intentionally does not report many of its derailments, so there are undoubtedly many more that have occurred in Alberta during the past year. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for details.

Burlington Neighbourhood Frustrated with CN Rail Yard Activities

•September 26, 2014 • Comments Off

Some residents in the Aldershot community of Burlington, Ontario have been fighting Canadian National Railway for 15 years, without success. Residents can’t sleep at night, their houses shake and rattle, and their property values have dropped with the increasing rail yard activity in their community.

The sometimes deafening noise at the CN Aldershot Rail Yard comes from shunting and coupling of rail cars, idling and slow-moving locomotives, load cell testing of locomotives, wheel and brake retarder squeal, compressed air releases, and many other disturbing noises associated with rail yard activities. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada list noises at rail yards as one of the top five railway proximity issues of concern to nearby residents. Noise in rail yards is far more frequent and of much longer duration than normal railway noise.

Residents are also concerned about their health, considering the well-documented carcinogenic effects of diesel exhaust from idling and slow-moving locomotives.

In 2006, the Aldershot community presented a petition to Canadian National Railway, their Mayor and Councillors, and their Member of Parliament, pleading for resolution to their nightmare. Petitioners suggested building a sound barrier and restricting noisy rail yard activities at night and during early mornings. CN essentially ignored the petition. Unfortunately, and as is the case across the country, local governments have no jurisdictional authority when it comes to railway activity including noise and vibration, so the local Mayor and Council have not been able to help. The federal government has the sole legislative responsibility for railway operations, safety and railway impacts on neighbouring communities.

Aldershot residents have seen their property values decrease as the rail yard activities have increased. Some residents near the rail yard have estimated their homes are worth about $200,000 less than comparable homes less than a 5-minute walk further away from the rail yard.

Recent derailments reported in the Aldershot community have also increased the stress of residents. Three CN cars loaded with ballast rock derailed in the Aldershot Rail Yard on April 22, 2014, when a train passed over a “frog”, a railway term that refers to the crossing point of two rails (Toronto Star). On February 26, 2012, three Via Rail engineers were killed and 46 other people were injured when a Via locomotive and five cars derailed near the Aldershot Station on track owned, operated and maintained by CN. The train was switching from one track to another when it flew off the tracks and collided with a building, destroying the locomotive that the three deceased crew members were in. A former CN project engineer said the deadly derailment might have been prevented if CN had heeded warnings and removed or upgraded an obsolete crossover between tracks designed mainly for freight trains travelling at a maximum speed of 24km/h (CBC News).

Aldershot community members are at their wit’s end. The unreasonable rail yard noise, health effects, property devaluation and derailments have placed tremendous stress on families and their overall quality of life. If there ever was a case where the federal government should exercise its legal responsibilities for appropriate railway operations, it is in the Aldershot community. Railroaded sincerely hopes the local Member of Parliament and the federal Transport Minister will help this community. We also encourage the Aldershot community to make a strong submission to the recently-created Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat by December 30, 2014. For details on the review of this federal legislation, see Rail and Reason’s recent article.

Canadian National Railway Train Derails Near Vermilion, Alberta

•September 26, 2014 • Comments Off

Seventeen Canadian National Railway freight cars loaded with peas derailed east of Vermilion, Alberta on September 25 (CTV News). The derailment forced the closure of the rail line for at least 24 hours while the cars and peas were cleared off the tracks.

This is the 20th reported CN derailment in Alberta in less than a year. See CN Railway Derailments, Other Accidents and Incidents for many more examples of CN accidents in Canada and the U.S.

Canadian National Railway Grain Hauling Fine a Joke

•September 25, 2014 • Comments Off

The federal government announced last week that Canadian National Railway would be fined under the Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act for failing to move a minimum amount of grain each week.

Under the legislation which came into effect on April 1, railways would face maximum penalties of $100,000 a day for failing to handle 500,000 tonnes of grain each week for the next 90 days (Globe and Mail). But when the legislation was extended in August, the fine was reduced to up to $100,000 per violation which Transport Canada says means per week. The significant change was buried in a lengthy government backgrounder and went unnoticed by the grain industry, media and Official Opposition.

Wade Sobkowich, Executive Director of the Western Grain Elevator Association said, “Lovely. The old switcheroo.” He described the change as “disingenuous” and a “very small amount” for railways like CN that generate billions of dollars in revenue a year. “We did not receive notice of the change, and if true, we are surprised and question the reason for the reduction”.

Opposition Agriculture Critic Malcolm Allen said the federal government softened the law under fierce pressure from railway executives, who “screamed almighty murder” over a per-day fine. “Every time push comes to shove, it’s the railroaders that win with the Department of Transport”, he said.

Railroaded toothless tiger imageThis is just one of many, many examples of the sad state of railway legislation and enforcement in Canada. Federal legislation, even that passed very recently, consistently favours the railroad industry, and then to add insult to injury, enforcement of the weak legislation is either limited or non-existent. Transport Canada has often been referred to as a “toothless tiger” when it comes to regulating the rail industry in Canada, dominated by the two rail giants, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway – it is a term that has been well earned.

The federal government refuses to bring the rail industry into the 21st century when it comes to fairness to shippers, rail safety, railway noise and vibration impacts, or environmental impacts of the rail industry. Canadians, including farmers, other shippers, municipalities, rail safety advocates, environmental organizations and individual Canadians have an opportunity to make their concerns known about these and other rail matters, by contacting the Canada Transportation Act Review Secretariat by December 30, 2014. See this Rail and Reason article for details on how to make a submission to the Secretariat.



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