CN’s Crude by Rail
As the debate continues on whether pipelines or railways are safer when it comes to shipping oil, Railroaded ran across some interesting language on CN’s Crude by Rail marketing website. One of CN’s headings reads, “We deliver your crude oil products responsibly”. The website then continues, “Running a safe operation without anyone getting hurt and without damaging the environment is a top priority at CN. That philosophy is reflected in every aspect of our business…Our safety initiatives extend to the railcars on our tracks. CN is committed to safe and secure shipment of Dangerous Goods. We never compromise on safety.”
We all know about marketing and advertising, and the use of superlatives (e.g., “top”, “every”, “never”). Other popular and catchy marketing words and phrases include: “responsibly”, “safe”, “without damaging the environment”, and “we never compromise”. Indeed, these superlatives and other catchy words appear on CN’s Crude by Rail marketing website. Let’s compare what CN says on its website with CN’s track record and with what other people say:
CN says, “Running a safe operation without anyone getting hurt…is a top priority at CN.” The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have repeatedly warned CN in its investigation reports of rail accidents involving death and/or injury of railway employees, passengers or innocent bystanders that more attention needs to be paid to safety procedures, warning systems, and to railway operating rules. See this Railroaded link and this TSB link for examples of death or injury associated with Canadian National Railway accidents.
CN says, “Running a safe operation…without damaging the environment is a top priority at CN.” CN does not have a positive environmental record. Lakes and rivers have been polluted and fish and wildlife have been killed by CN spills of toxic products. Over 72,000 fish were killed in Illinois when CN spilled 60,000 gallons of ethanol into a tributary of the Rock and Kishwaukee rivers; fish and wildlife were killed when CN spilled 1.3 million litres of heavy bunker fuel oil and 700,000 litres of pole treating oil into Wabamun Lake, Alberta; and 500,000 fish were killed near Squamish, British Columbia when CN spilled 40,000 litres of caustic soda into the Cheakamus River. B.C. Environment staff said the spill decimated the Cheakamus River’s fish population. There are many more examples of CN spills at this link. As well, hundreds of big game species – moose, deer, bears – are killed annually by CN trains as these animals feed on grain spilled from rail cars or try to cross the tracks. And, wildfires caused by CN have burned thousands of acres of forest and wildlife habitat.
CN says, “Our safety initiatives extend to the railcars on our tracks.” On the other hand, in an August 2010 investigation report – one of many reports on CN accidents – the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said disasters like the Wabamun CN train wreck in 2005 could happen again because “tens of thousands” of defective railway cars might be riding Canada’s railroads (Edmonton Journal).
CN says, “CN is committed to safe and secure shipment of Dangerous Goods.” On the other hand, there have been so many CN derailments and spills of Dangerous Goods that it is difficult to keep track of. Several examples are provided above, and there are many more at this link and at Railroaded’s “Latest News”. Shipping Dangerous Goods by rail is of particular concern considering the high number of CN derailments and spills, and the fact that the Railway Association of Canada says 12% of all rail traffic carries Dangerous Goods (Toronto Star).
CN says, “We never compromise on safety.” On the other hand, in a Toronto Star letter, Emile Therien, Past President of the Canada Safety Council, writes, “…is but another incident in the long list of derailments, crossing accidents, and collisions that have plagued Canada’s major railroads dating back to 1999 when Transport Canada largely gave up its regulatory oversight role.” Therien goes on to write, “Considering the despicable and sad state of railway safety in this country, characterized by flawed public policy and federal government apathy, and an industry motivated solely by profit, contemptuous for the safety of their workers and the public, it is only a matter of time before this country experiences a rail disaster not unlike that awful tragedy in Mississauga on Nov. 10, 1979…” He concludes by writing, “Lives will continue to be jeopardized unless the government ensures there are enough Transport Canada inspectors to do the vital job” of “effective regulatory oversight in the railway business.”
A “culture of fear “ is known to exist within CN and workers are reluctant to bring safety risks to the attention of their supervisors for fear of discipline. This is certainly not helpful to improving safety at CN. Safety experts, corporate responsibility advocates and environmentalists have pleaded with the federal government and the rail industry to improve overall rail safety in Canada.
See this link for more on shipping oil by rail. Also see Rail and Reason for a comprehensive report on the negative impacts of increased oil tank rail car traffic on residents who live near railroads.