Municipalities seeking safety plans from railway companies would have to file an access to information request with the federal government, Edmonton city councillors learned this week.
According to a report prepared for this week’s meeting of the community services committee, these "safety management systems" are considered confidential.
The information was contained in a report that council requested last July in the aftermath of the train disaster in Lac Mégantic that killed 47 people.
Council wanted to know what the railways are carrying through Edmonton, and what the railways would do if things go wrong.
"I think municipalities across our country were all asking 'Could this happen to us?’" Coun. Bryan Anderson said.
More and more oil is being carried by rail -- about 200,000 barrels a day by the end of 2013.
But oil isn’t the only hazardous material safety officials are worried about.
“This is chlorine, and ammonia and sulphur,” said Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block.
Ed Greenberg, spokesman for Canadian Pacific, says that the safety plans aren’t shared for “security reasons.”
“The SMS documentation is considered internal and intended for the federal regulator, company managers and employees and we follow appropriate procedures by filing an annual submission with Transport Canada,” he wrote in an email to CBC News.
“The SMS provides the federal regulator with CP's detailed information on the areas of our operations, including safe train operations.”
CN told CBC News that the company is planning to share more with municipalities and met with Edmonton Fire Rescue in November.
Block confirms a meeting took place but said it was fairly vague.
“It was about ok, what’s the current state and how are we going to move forward,” he said.
“Clearly there was room to improve and they acknowledged that and they expressed a desire to work with us and that’s great news.”
Labour lawyer Wayne Benedict is a former railway employee. He says federal regulations allowing companies to write their own plans put the public at risk.
"When you've got a profit-making entity making safety rules, my concern is that profit is going to be super ordinated over the other interests, safety and environmental,” he said.
A new federal rule compels CP and CN to tell municipalities the amount and type of dangerous goods that travel within their boundaries each year.
Block says that’s a start because before municipalities were told absolutely nothing.
"Anything will be better than what it was before,” he said.