Canadian National Railway Derailment of Dangerous Goods in Edmonton
One of the latest CN derailments occurred yesterday morning in north Edmonton when 3 moving trains collided. Three locomotives, 2 tank cars loaded with dangerous goods and 1 empty flat car fell off the tracks. One of the locomotives leaked an undisclosed amount of diesel fuel (Edmonton Journal).
A CN public affairs spokesperson, Emily Hamer, told the Edmonton Journal she did not know what dangerous goods were in the derailed tank cars. Edmonton Fire Rescue crews were apparently called by CN about one of the tank cars possibly containing propane. Information (or lack thereof) provided by CN about the contents of tank cars it was hauling in this particular case exemplifies a very serious problem.
Municipalities across Canada have recently demanded, through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, to be provided information by rail companies on what dangerous goods are travelling through their communities and when. In the wake of the Lac-Megantic oil train disaster that killed 47 people in July, 2013, Transport Canada issued a protective directive November 20, 2013 requiring any Class 1 railway company that transports dangerous goods to provide municipalities with yearly aggregate information, presented by quarter, on the nature and volume of dangerous goods the company transports by rail through that community. Unfortunately, such yearly aggregate information is not particularly helpful to first responders who require “real-time” information in order to instantly know what dangerous goods are being transported through their communities in the event of a derailment or other accident.
The St. Albert Gazette recently contacted multiple sources in an attempt to find out what dangerous goods are passing through St. Albert. CN declined to answer. CN Rail’s public affairs spokesperson, Warren Chandler, told the Gazette on January 8 dangerous goods information for St. Albert trains was not available. He said, “I do not have that information readily available…CN can move any commodity at anytime on our network in response to customer demand.” When Transport Canada was contacted by the Gazette on January 10, Brian Williams said anyone wanting to know the exact number of trains, and what’s on them, will have to get that information from CN Rail.
Is it any wonder Canadians are concerned about rail safety and what’s being transported through our communities and along our rivers and lakes? Transport Canada says rail companies have that information, yet only requires the companies to provide municipalities with yearly aggregate information – which is really not very helpful. Rail companies like CN say they can haul whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.
This absurd situation leaves municipalities and the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who live and work next to railroad tracks wondering about their safety (CBC News). It’s about time the federal government – specifically Transport Canada – exercises its legislative responsibilities for the rail industry, including rail safety. Much of the railway legislation in Canada has not changed significantly since it was first drafted and passed in the 1800s, and it is long overdue to be updated. We cannot continue to permit private rail companies to do what they want, when they want and where they want, when their activities can have such devastating impacts on human life, infrastructure and our environment.
See this link for more information on hundreds of additional CN derailments, including one in Burnaby, B.C. January 11, 2014 and one near Plaster Rock, New Brunswick January 7.