Coun. Sam Merulla says Transport Canada is dodging important questions and "basically wasted our time" in its response to the city’s request for real-time information on what dangerous goods are being transported by rail through Hamilton.

In the wake of the 2013 tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, Que., when the derailment of a train carrying crude oil sparked an explosion that killed 47 people, Merulla urged council to ask Transport Canada to provide up-to-date data on hazardous goods that are being shuttled by train through the city.

Council approved Merulla’s motion, and in April, the city sent its request in the form of a letter to the federal government.

The city received a response from Transport Canada in July, but the Ward 4 councillor said the letter doesn’t address his questions directly.

“Unless they make direct reference to the real-time data — either yes or no — they basically wasted our time by responding,” Merulla said on Wednesday.

“I’m probably going to attempt to seek another response that addresses the question that was asked.”

'It's not about what they are doing'

The letter was addressed to the mayor and signed by Louis Lévesque, Canada’s deputy minister of transport, infrastructure and communities. It mentions several measures the federal government has already taken to improve rail safety. But it doesn’t answer the city's request for real-time data directly. 

Rail companies whose revenues exceed $250 million are now required to provide “yearly aggregate information regarding the nature and volume of dangerous goods being transported on a quarterly basis,” the letter reads. 

Smaller operators, Lévesque said, must provide the same information on a yearly basis and “notify municipalities of any significant changes as soon as possible." 

The letter, which is set to go in front of city council on Friday, also refers to a 24/7 government hotline that’s available for local agencies that are dealing with emergencies involving the transport of dangerous goods.

“The emergency centre is staffed by bilingual scientists specializing in chemistry or a related field and train in emergency response. These advisors can provide immediate advice over the phone and recommend actions to be taken, and those to avoid, in dangerous good emergencies.”

But Merulla said the government's safeguards don’t go far enough to ensure that cities are prepared for possible emergencies involving rail cargo. Earlier this year, the fire department released data revealing that for every 100 rail cars that pass through Hamilton, at least seven of them contain materials that can explode, spill or seep through the water table.

“It’s not about what they are doing,” Merulla said. “It’s about what they’re not doing.”