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EDITORIAL (SEPTEMBER 2016): Train derailment changes the conversation

September 15th, 2016 · No Comments

The August 21 twin train derailment on the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) line at Dupont Street is a reminder of just how much of a potential disaster is ticking away on our doorstep. It adds urgency to what is no longer a theoretical conversation.

The two CPR freight trains failed to execute a safe pass of one another when heading in opposite directions. Two westbound locomotives came off the tracks along with several of the rail cars from the eastbound train that were hit behind the engines. What if those cars were carrying hazardous material? What if that material was released and combusted, what is the loss of life predicted? What would be the property damage?

This issue of rail safety has long been a concern for area residents as trains became longer and the cargo they carry increasingly hazardous in nature. No one consulted Annex residents, or residents in any city or town in the country for that matter, as the materials on these trains shifted from logs, coal, and grain into stuff that explodes like ethanol, propane, and volatile crude oil.

We need to be mindful of the danger in our midst and to mitigate against it with greater urgency

Just about every day we hear about public hearings, disputes, and protests about this pipeline and that pipeline, and the many regulatory hurdles any proposal must overcome before anything comes to pass. But with train transport they did it in an almost as-of-right fashion.

In 1979, not that long ago, a CPR train derailment in Mississauga caused rail cars carrying propane to rupture and, when combined with substances including chlorine and caustic soda leaked from other cars, the mixture exploded into a fireball that shot 5,000 feet in the air.

Over 200,000 residents were relocated in the largest peacetime evacuation in history until 2005 when New Orleans was cleared in response to Hurricane Katrina. Surprisingly, there was no loss of life associated with the Mississauga incident. Mississauga is a much more populous place today and if one were to apply that accident as a template over today’s Mississauga the results likely would be different.

The 2013 rail disaster at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, has more resonance for us as it is more recent, involved the loss of 47 lives, and devastated a small town. Moreover, what is chilling is the fact that those rail cars carrying the bakken crude oil that proved to be so volatile came through the Annex on the CPR line only days earlier.

It’s helpful to be reminded that main line rail derailments are down overall across the country, and that things are getting incrementally better. Despite this, we need to be mindful of the danger in our midst and to mitigate against it with greater urgency.

It’s a difficult thing managing risk as risk is everywhere of course and it’s all relative but somehow the juxtaposition of the Lac-Mégantic disaster and the recent Dupont Street derailment has changed the perception of risk assessment. The August 21 Annex derailment reminds us that accidents will happen. No amount of additional training, improved infrastructure, or system changes is going to change that fact. Re-routing trains carrying hazardous material around major urban centres mitigates that risk since the consequences of an accident are predictably less.

Our local Member of Parliament, Chrystia Freeland, who is also the Minister of International Trade, campaigned on rail safety — both a local and national issue — during the recent election. She brings a personal perspective to the federal level, as the home that she shares with her husband and three children looks out over these very tracks. It may be time for her to walk the walk on this issue from her seat at the cabinet table.

 

READ MORE:

NEWS: Trains in the night (September 2016)

ON THE COVER: Dupont rail derailment (August 2016)

NEWS: Rail safety focus of town hall (May 2016)

FORUM: Where do your LPC, NDP, and GPC candidates stand? (September 2015)

NEWS: Inaction frustrates residents (May 2015)

NEWS: Risky Rails? (February 2015)

 

 

 

 

Tags: Annex · Editorial