Concerns Grow about Secret Railway Hazardous Goods Information
Railroaded has previously blogged about the need for municipalities and the public to receive information from railway companies on what hazardous goods are being transported (and when) through our cities, towns, villages and other communities. Unfortunately, a protective direction issued by the federal government – Transport Canada – last November directs Canada’s rail companies to provide only year-old data to municipalities in aggregate form on a quarterly basis, which is next to useless for first responders should an accident occur. And, rail companies will provide these year-old data to municipalities only after they have formally agreed not to share this information with anyone else.
These confidentiality agreements, or gag orders, are preventing municipalities from sharing any hazardous goods data with their residents, even the hundreds of thousands of residents who live right next to railroads and who would be directly affected if a derailment or other accident occurred. Municipalities are becoming increasingly concerned about these gag orders and about not receiving real-time information about dangerous goods travelling through their communities (Edmonton Journal). For example, White Rock, British Columbia Mayor Wayne Baldwin was recently quoted saying, “This goes back many years. The railroad is king, right? That psyche has carried forward to modern day. They’re not responsive to the public. They really don’t care. They have a right to use their tracks and by God they’re going to use them. It’s the dollar Almighty that’s the bottom line.” Baldwin believes the confidentiality agreements are simply a way for railways to reduce public scrutiny of their operations. He continued, “What it really comes down to is they really don’t want people to know because they don’t want people to get upset. And if people are upset it will cause them some difficulties and they just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle.”
Claude Dauphin, President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), recently said municipalities will continue to push for additional information from railways, including routing of hazardous goods and more current information on cargo movements. He said, “It’s not over, it’s not all settled.”
Railroaded cannot believe that people who live next to railroads are legally prohibited from obtaining information on what types of dangerous goods are travelling by their homes and the timing of such movements. Montreal-based Canadian National Railway provides the weak excuse that CN “does not disclose the routes it uses to move commodities on its network for security reasons, and does not identify its customers or origins of traffic owing to commercial confidentiality.” On the other hand, the Chair of the FCM’s railway safety working group, Doug Reycraft, has said, “Whenever there’s any discussion with railways about sharing information, they seemed concerned about it getting into the hands of their competitors and undermining their position.” Until the federal government insists that the safety of Canadians is more important than the rail industry’s bottom line, we will continue to be in the dark about the dangerous goods that travel through our communities and along our rivers and lakes.