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NEWS: Rail safety focus of town hall

May 13th, 2016 · No Comments

Minister of Transport questioned on diverting dangerous goods

By Annemarie Brissenden

If residents at the well-attended town hall on rail safety were looking for the federal government to commit to diverting railway tracks out of dense urban neighbourhoods, they came away disappointed.

“We are not actively looking at relocating rail outside of Toronto”—Marc Garneau,      Minister of Transport

“We are not actively looking at relocating rail outside of Toronto,” said Marc Garneau, the federal Minister of Transport, at the Walmer Road Baptist Church on April 27. “Railways go through all major urban centres. Moving railways must be done in such a way that there is no cost to the railways…[we are dealing with] a very complex reality.”

Organized by Carolyn Bennett (MP, Toronto-St. Paul’s) and Chrystia Freeland (MP, University-Rosedale), the meeting coincided with Rail Safety Week and was moderated by Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s). It drew a veritable who’s who of local politicians including Mayor John Tory, Arif Virani (MP, Parkdale-High Park), Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), and Adam Vaughan (MP, Spadina-Fort York), along with Kate Young (MP, London West).

With rail lines running along Dupont Street, also the northern edge of University-Rosedale, rail safety — always top of mind for residents in the riding — came under greater scrutiny after the devastating rail accident in Lac-Mégantic. Both Bennett and Freeland campaigned on pushing rail safety during the election, and hosting the Minister of Transport at a community meeting appears to be a crucial first step in keeping this promise.

Speakers at the town hall wasted no time in putting the minister on the hot seat, questioning him on everything from speed, the type of materials transported, the type of rail cars used, communication with first responders, security considerations, and the potential for controlling rogue trains remotely.

In all of his answers, Garneau emphasized that “rail safety is just about my number one priority”.

But for representatives of Rail Safety First, the best way to guarantee a community’s safety is to stop transporting dangerous goods by rail.

“Visions of Lac-Mégantic are very clearly in our mind,” said one, noting that the train that instigated the Quebec disaster travelled through midtown Toronto before its untimely end. “One kilometre of devastation [in the Annex] would mean 100,000 lives lost.”

In response, Garneau emphasized that Lac-Mégantic was the result of “a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that led to a major catastrophe”. He explained that research is being done into the classification of dangerous products to gain a better understanding of the volatility of certain materials, and that the rail industry is on schedule for replacing old tanker cars that were not designed to carry shale oil.

“There are over 40,000 kilometres of rail in this country,” said Garneau, noting that the materials that are transported are used in our daily lives and include chlorine, propane, and sulfuric acid, as well as grain, lumber, and potash.

The rail tracks that the materials travel along are another cause of concern.

One questioner suggested that “a lot of the railroad is poorly maintained” as “indicated by noise from the trains and rails”. He added that some of the structures and bridges were built over a century ago.

It’s Transport Canada’s responsibility to inspect the tracks, said Garneau, pointing out that the government has increased the number of inspectors since Lac-Mégantic as well as the number of inspectors for dangerous goods. There are clear requirements for structure maintenance, and “we do inspect [the railways], and they must conform to certain standards regarding safety.

“I can assure you that we ensure that [the railway companies] must satisfy that requirement.”

Communication between first responders and the railway companies was another issue raised at the meeting. Emergency services and community leaders, under current regulations, are not given advance warning if dangerous goods are going to be transported through a neighbourhood. Should a disaster occur, that information would be critical to an effective response.

While Garneau admitted they are not providing as much information as they could, he did argue that it is a big improvement on the past.

“I personally believe that we have a great onus about sharing information whilst respecting security,” he said.

It was an exchange that brought renewed calls from the floor to push for diverting the transportation of dangerous goods to non-urban areas. But Garneau remained focused on his main point: that rail safety is achievable.

“My vision is that every Canadian who goes to bed at night is able to sleep peacefully even if there is a train in their neighbourhood.”



Where do your LPC, NDP, and GPC candidates stand? (September 2015) Compiled by Annemarie Brissenden

Inaction frustrates residents (May 2015) By Arthur White

Risky Rails? (February 2015) by Madeline Smith

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