Dangerous Goods Rail Accidents Rising Following Lac-Megantic Oil Train Disaster
CTV News recently reported, “According to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, there were 74 instances of railway accidents involving dangerous goods from January to May 2014, compared to 61 from January to May 2013. During those same time periods, non-main-track derailments (involving dangerous goods) increased from 38 to 49″, a 29% increase.
The number of main-track derailments from January to May involving dangerous goods increased by 20% from 2013 to 2014. The number of non-main-track collisions involving dangerous goods during the same time period increased by over 15% from 2013 to 2014.
The total number of non-main-track derailments from January to May involving 1 or 2 cars increased from 177 in 2013 to 224 in 2014, a 27% increase. The number of non-main-track derailments involving 3+ cars increased by over 14% from 2013 to 2014.
The total number of main-track derailments from January to May involving 1 or 2 cars increased by over 9% from 2013 to 2014, and the number of main-track derailments involving 3+ cars increased by over 15% from 2013 to 2014.
The number of rail accidents that involved fires/explosions from January to May increased by a whopping 86% from 2013 to 2014.
The number of train incidents from January to May increased by 7% from 2013 to 2014, and the number of dangerous goods leaker incidents increased by over 19% from 2013 to 2014.
It is important to note that the above statistics represent only those data reported to the TSB by Canadian railways. There has been a history of under-reporting in this regard.
Although Transport Canada has made, or will be making, some changes to regulations in an attempt to improve rail safety, municipalities and rail safety experts are calling for more meaningful changes to address the ever-increasing transport of dangerous goods, including crude oil, by rail. Transport Action Canada President Harry Gow recently said the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster was a wake-up call for the federal government (CTV News). The Transportation Safety Board had been recommending for decades that Transport Canada tighten up its rail safety rules, appoint more inspectors and generally do more work to improve safety. Unfortunately, during the past few decades, Transport Canada had all but relinquished its rail safety oversight responsibilities to the rail industry, permitting industry to monitor itself and to provide incomplete reporting to government.
Gow said some of the changes that would improve rail safety are not possible; for example, installing bypasses away from populated areas would be too expensive of an undertaking, and as Roger Annis recently wrote in Truthout, “It would cost vast sums to upgrade tracks and wagons, route trains around the largest or most vulnerable population centres, lower train speeds, and so on. The railways and oil shippers are having none of it.” Annis considers oil train safety an oxymoron, and suggests transporting crude oil by rail cannot be made safe. If this indeed is the case, and in light of the Lac-Mégantic oil train disaster a year ago, our federal and provincial governments will eventually be forced to make a decision about what is more important…continuation of the out-of-control pace of oil extraction and transport by rail…or people’s lives.