“Safe Rail Communities” Aims to Improve Rail Safety
“Actions speak louder than words” – this is a phrase that most definitely applies to Safe Rail Communities, a Toronto-based “non-partisan, community organization advocating for transparency and safeguards with respect to rail safety in our neighbourhoods”. The organization “is calling on the federal government for genuine safeguards and transparency regarding the transport by rail of volatile crude oil and other hazardous material”.
Instead of simply writing about improving the transport of crude oil and other dangerous goods by rail, Safe Rail Communities (SRC) has recently taken action, on several fronts, in an attempt to bring about meaningful and much-needed changes. A brief summary of some of Safe Rail Communities’ initiatives follows, with permission from SRC. Railroaded encourages you to visit their website to get the details.
SRC has produced two one-page summaries on their main concerns and call to action (see Summary 1 and Summary 2). They point out that there has been a whopping 28,000% increase between 2009 and 2014 in the number of rail tank cars transporting crude oil across Canada, and it is projected to increase by almost 4-fold again by 2016. These “Bomb Trains” travel daily through our densely populated areas and along our streams, rivers and lakes where derailments can be deadly and cause major environmental disasters. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada has warned the rail industry and Transport Canada since 1991 about the defective DOT-111 tank cars that puncture easily during derailments and other accidents. Although modest changes have been made, rail companies and shippers have been given far too long to get rid of these cars or to retrofit them. The Auditor General has criticized Transport Canada numerous times, pointing out that the federal department has completed only 26% of its planned audits of federal railways over a 3-year period. Despite increases in hazardous shipments by rail, and promises of tougher standards for tank cars and other safety measures, Transport Canada has cut the railway safety budget by more than 20% over the last 5 years.
Other concerns raised by SRC include the fact that railways do not carry enough insurance to cover the costs of a catastrophic derailment. This can be particularly alarming when we learned that crude oil from the Bakken region, North Dakota, is more volatile than traditional crude oil, and is shipped by rail through many Canadian cities, towns and villages. The issues of sufficient insurance coverage and the volatility of Bakken crude tragically came to a head when Canadians and the world watched in horror the devastating results of the derailment disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, where the spill, explosion and burning of crude oil killed 47 people, levelled much of downtown Lac-Mégantic, and caused major environmental damage.
SRC points out what has become extremely frustrating to municipalities and residents across Canada – that CN and CP are required to provide first responders with only historical data (not real-time data) of dangerous goods being shipped through our neighbourhoods. Residents living near rail lines and the media are prohibited from receiving this vital information.
On December 29, 2014, SRC forwarded a 14-page submission to the Canada Transportation Act Review Panel which considers “limits of the current act as it relates to rail, as well as addresses broader concerns related to rail safety”. SRC has made sound recommendations to the panel on railway air quality, noise level, speed, safety technology, tank car standards and accident insurance. The SRC document also contains an excellent list of references on tank car standards, the carcinogenic effects of railway diesel engine exhaust, and more.
SRC submitted an Environmental Petition to the Auditor General of Canada, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, on January 28, 2015, titled “Environmental risks and the increase in hazardous goods transported by rail”. To quote one sentence of SRC’s background to the petition, “Given the significant increase in shipments of crude oil and hazardous goods by rail, concerns about the safety of the railcars, and quality of life impacts on Canadian communities, we submit this petition to the Government of Canada to identify the actions taken to study and mitigate the impact to the environment and to protect the health and well-being of Canadians.” The petition contains 17 questions addressed to Transport Canada and Environment Canada regarding: tank car standards, transport of the particularly volatile Bakken region crude oil, ability of the public to voice concerns about rail safety legislation and regulations, the need for environmental and public health studies related to the dramatic increase in crude oil transport by rail, speed of crude oil trains, risk assessments of crude oil shipment routes, the true financial and environmental costs of a catastrophic derailment, environmental impacts of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic derailment disaster, adequate railway accident insurance coverage, and details about Transport Canada’s cuts to rail safety budgets.
And finally, SRC has developed this public petition calling on the federal government to make meaningful improvements to rail safety in Canada. SRC encourages people concerned about the skyrocketing increase in the transport of crude oil and other dangerous goods by rail to collect signatures using their petition (or creating their own). You need only 25 signatures to get your MP to present the petition in the House of Commons. SRC also encourages Canadians to direct questions and concerns about rail safety to your MP, through other means.
Railroaded strongly supports SRC’s initiatives, and we encourage people across Canada to get this petition signed and submit it to your MP. See this link for additional information on the many hazards associated with shipping oil and other dangerous goods by rail, and this article in the Vancouver Observer for quotes directly from members of SRC.