There have been 22 train derailments in Hamilton in the last five years, including two cars carrying highly flammable ethanol.
Documents obtained by CBC Hamilton from the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) show that both of those derailments happened back in 2010 on non-main track lines, which happen on side tracks or rail yards. There were no spills or injuries in either case.
The city says it’s prepared for the risks and dangers that can come with rail lines passing through the city — but this summer’s Lac-Mégantic disaster has forced officials to reexamine safety plans to ensure their effectiveness, says fire chief Rob Simonds.
'People need to be conscious of what is moving through their communities.' - Raynald Marchand, general manager of the Canada Safety Council
“As a city, we are mindful of the transportation risks and considerations that fall within our municipal and regional boundaries, and we have and will continue to plan for them,” Simonds told CBC Hamilton. “Accidents, such as the tragic derailment in Lac-Mégantic, always cause us to pause and to reexamine our plans and preparations and make any necessary changes.”
There has only been one main-track derailment in Hamilton in the last five years, which happened in June 2013. Main-track derailments are considered more serious because they run through more densely populated areas. There were no injuries or dangerous goods being transported when that train derailed.
The majority of recent derailments in Hamilton are “happening in yards at low speeds,” said Rob Johnston, the manager for central regional operations rail pipeline investigations with the TSB. “There’s nothing here that really jumps out at us.”
But TSB logs show there are some reasons for concern. In one derailment from January 2013, crews left a tank car “in a customer siding for three hours while they were switching, and upon their return, they discovered that the cars had rolled uncontrolled and derailed.”
Still, “these things are often re-railed and back and running in a very short period,” Johnston said.
Planning for emergency
Spills of hazardous materials and explosions rank at the top of they city’s emergency management plan — which was recently tested via a full-scale emergency exercise, Simonds says.
Ten years ago, the city established its Emergency Management Act according to provincial regulations. Since then, the city’s emergency management centre on Stone Church Road East has been activated 10 times.
When that happens, city responders are called in from the department related to the emergency. Employees work from the emergency management centre to manage staff on the ground.
“Our current plans and procedures have recently been reviewed and we believe them to be able to address our community's unique risk factors,” Simonds said. “As well, our emergency responders are very well-trained to respond to large scale emergency events, such as train derailments and how to handle potentially dangerous cargo.”
“As a city, we are mindful of the transportation risks and considerations that fall within our municipal and regional boundaries, and we have and will continue to plan for them.”
'No need for panic'
But there are no regulatory provisions under Canada’s Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act that requires companies to provide information to Transport Canada on the kinds and quantities of dangerous goods that are being transported through communities.
Municipalities can ask rail companies for that information. The city did not immediately respond when asked if Hamilton officials regularly do so.
Canadians in general are more sensitive to rail accidents right now because of Lac-Mégantic, says Raynald Marchand, general manager of the Canada Safety Council.
Parts of the small Quebec town were completely destroyed on July 6 when a train carrying 72 cars of crude oil derailed and exploded in the centre of town, killing 47 people.
“And that is understandable — but the statistics [for train derailments] have been getting better overall in Canada,” Marchand said, adding that carting dangerous goods by rail is often safer than using other industries.
According to Transport Canada, since 2007, train accidents in Canada have decreased by 23 per cent and train derailments are down 26 per cent.
“Per billion of kilometres driven, the rail is much safer than trucking,” he said. “People need to be conscious of what is moving through their communities."
“But at the same time, there is no need for panic.”