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NEWS (SEPTEMBER 2016): Trains in the night

September 15th, 2016 · No Comments

Potential disaster averted

By Brian Burchell

Two Canadian Pacific freight trains collided on August 21 sending two locomotives and several rail cars off the tracks just north of Dupont Street near Howland Avenue. The trains were going in opposite directions and one clipped the tail end of the other as it failed to execute a safe pass.

Though 1,100 litres of diesel fuel leaked into the surrounding rail bed, later recovered, no freight or hazardous material was released from the cargo cars. This event is widely seen as a wake-up call by Annex residents long anxious about their proximity to trains carrying hazardous materials right by their doorsteps.

The issue of rail safety has become more urgent since the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which killed 47 residents. That train was hauling crude oil in rail cars that just days earlier had passed through the Annex.

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has started an investigation into the incident. According to its website the investigative process includes three phases: field (where wreckage is examined and witnesses are interviewed), analysis (where the evidence is examined), and finally formal reporting.

“In 2009, 500 cars of crude oil were shipped compared to 140,000 car loads in 2013.”

The investigation, said TSB spokesperson Eric Collard, is still at the field phase and it was not possible to predict when it will conclude. However, “if anything comes out of the investigation that is pertinent or urgent we will issue safety notices to the appropriate authorities ahead of the final report”.

This gives little comfort to local city councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), whose ward includes the derailment site. He wants the railway system management regulations overhauled, and alternative routes considered for transporting dangerous goods.

“I hope it is a wake-up call,” said Cressy. “For too long our local communities along the [rail] corridor have been calling for stronger [safety] measures, and while we have a receptive federal government that has taken initial steps they are not substantive or quick enough.”

“We take all rail incidents very seriously and are closely monitoring the situation involving the derailment of CP trains on the North Toronto Subdivision,” wrote Transport Minister Marc Garneau in an email. “We will cooperate fully with the [TSB]’s investigation and will not hesitate to take appropriate action should any regulatory infractions be found.”

University-Rosedale Member of Parliament Chrystia Freeland, whose riding includes the site of the derailment, advised the Gleaner through her constituency office that “my family home where I live with my husband and three children, is right next door to the rail corridor. We can see the tracks from our front window, so this is really personal for me.

“That’s why I am focused on listening to the concerns of constituents right now and I would like to take those concerns back to Ottawa and bring that real personal perspective to the rail safety conversation.”

Henry Wiercinski, vice-chair of the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA) and its spokesperson on rail safety issues, explained that he was not surprised by the derailment. “With railways it’s not a question of ‘if’ but when and where a derailment will happen,” said Wiercinski. “That’s not to say people should be running around in hysterics; these are low-probability high-consequence events.”

The ARA has been instrumental in establishing an organization called Rail Safety First, a coalition of residents’ associations and business improvement areas that advocate for safe, transparent, and accountable rail. It promotes the safer transportation of dangerous goods, more robustly built tanker cars, and the diversion of dangerous cargo away from urban areas.

“Let’s face it,” said Wiercinski, “accidents happen, and the derailment of dangerous goods in a densely populated urban area is far more severe.”

Statistics from the TSB website show that main track derailments across the country are down year-to-date from 58 in 2015 to 34 in 2016, with the year-to-date average over the preceding five years standing at 61. So far in 2016 there have been no occurrences where dangerous goods have been released as a result of a derailment.

Although derailments are decreasing, the amount of crude oil being shipped has increased significantly.

Consider, explained Wiercinski, that in 2009, 500 cars of crude oil were shipped compared to 140,000 car loads in 2013.

He added that there is a big difference between what was being shipped when the rail tracks were first built and what is being shipped now. “Back in the day the rail line carried grain, freight, coal, and beaver pelts and now it carries chlorine, propane, crude oil, and ethanol.

“We can’t just keep whistling past the graveyard and pretend it could not happen here, or think it will happen someplace else; well that’s not okay.”



EDITORIAL: Train derailment changes the conversation (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)




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