Rail Safety

Dec 15, 2013

Transport Canada issued a “protective direction” on November 20th, requiring the major railway companies to provide detailed information on their cargoes to municipalities and first responders – but the quarterly and annual reports will only cover what had been shipped in the previous three months and 12 months, respectively. At best, it would give municipalities and first responders a feel for what has already gone through their jurisdictions, not what’s coming (somewhat akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted).

Issued under the auspices of the 1992 Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, the “protective direction” requires that any Class 1 carrier (Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific) to provide municipalities with quarterly aggregate information on dangerous goods carriage. Other railway companies are required to provide the information annually. “The information must outline the nature and the volume of the dangerous goods that the company transports,” Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters on Parliament Hill. “Municipalities must also be immediately notified of any significant changes to this information as soon as possible.”

Prompted mainly by last July’s derailment and subsequent explosions which gutted the Québec community of Lac Megantic, the “protective direction” is effective immediately. “We’ve heard from people, municipalities and first responders,” Raitt said. “They want to be able to conduct risk assessments, emergency planning and ensure they have appropriate training.”

Asked whether her initiative could have prevented the Lac Megantic accident if it had been in place earlier, Raitt said that railway companies already provide information to municipalities “but it’s not grounded in regulation” – which means there were no penalties. “That was the ‘big ask’ that the municipalities had […] They wanted to ensure that their first responders had the information.”

Minister Rait added that while the Transportation Safety Board had yet to issue its report on the Lac Megantic accident, “it’s an opportunity for us to work with industry and with the municipalities to make it an even safer system.”

The “protective direction” does not give municipalities to authority to block rail traffic they may consider to be undesirable. Raitt pointed out that transportation of dangerous goods “happens every day” and “now they have the information so they can be able to respond to it.”

While she couldn’t speak for the municipalities, she said that mayors in at least a half dozen provinces made it clear that municipalities want to keep the railways. “They know that dangerous goods are going to go through,” she said, “it happens every day on the road with respect to trucks. […] we need to do it as safe as possible and we want to enhance our safety in any way we can. Transportation of dangerous goods, 99.997% of the time, makes it from origin to destination without any kind of incident. Our railways are No. 1 in North America in terms of safety. Our system is absolutely a world standard. What we’re doing today is we’re making it better. We’ll move forward with regulations so that this information is written in stone and, if it’s not provided, there will be penalties.”

Ken Pole is a staff writer at FrontLine Security magazine.
© FrontLine Security 2013