In 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, Quebec. 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.
*Visit the Safe Rail Communities website at this link.