Quebec communities fear for safety of rail cargo
Rise in trains carrying crude oil has many Montreal-area towns fearing a repeat of Lac-Mégantic disaster
One year after the derailment in Lac-Mégantic that killed 47 people and destroyed the heart of the municipality, a number of Montreal-area politicians and residents say they worry about the safety of hazardous materials being transported by rail through their communities.
Craig Sauvé, a city councillor for Montreal’s Southwest borough, said his concerns are shared by many residents in his district’s St-Henri neighbourhood, which is bisected by a heavily used rail line.
Residents call him regularly about what they say is the growing number of freight trains passing through the neighbourhood with an increasing amount of cargo.
“There is a pretty significant curve in St-Henri, and with some trains passing pretty quickly, I worry about that curve. I'm not an expert, but it's enough to make me worry,” Sauvé told CBC News.
Such fears persist despite the federal government’s introduction of new rail safety measures in the wake of the Lac-Mégantic disaster.
Under the new rules, municipalities are able to request reports listing the type and volume of hazardous goods that have travelled through their communities over the past year.
Such rules are a good first step, said Sauvé, but he and others believe more needs to be done to prevent another tragedy like the one in Lac-Mégantic.
Measures needed now
Among other measures, the federal government announced a three-year phase-out or retrofit of older tank cars that are used to transport crude oil or ethanol by rail – the type of cars involved in the Lac-Mégantic disaster.
Bill Steinberg, the mayor of Hampstead, said that process has to be accelerated.
“They need to move faster,” he said. “Yes, some of the rail cars ... are safer than they used to be. On the other hand, there are far more cars travelling through. So, net, I'm not sure if we're any safer right now than we were before these regulations came in,” Steinberg said.
The government has failed so far to implement another key Transportation Safety Board recommendation that rail companies conduct route-planning when transporting dangerous goods.
With the number of trains carrying crude on the rise in Quebec, residents in towns like Boucherville on Montreal’s South Shore fear the worst.
A company called Kildair has an agreement with Suncor Energy to bring crude oil from western Canada to its storage facility in Sorel-Tracey using a CN rail line that runs through Boucherville.
Boucherville resident Rémi Tremblay's house is only a few metres from the tracks.
“Right now, they are telling us there will be 60 tanker cars of crude that will pass though here every day,” he told CBC News.
Tremblay has now joined a citizens' group called Alert Petrol Rive-Sud that was started to voice concerns about the transport of oil and other hazardous materials through South Shore communities.
Like Steinberg and others, Alert Petrol contends there needs to be greater transparency from rail companies about the materials they are transporting through communities.
CN, however, says it provides all the information that it’s required to under federal law.
A spokesman for CN provided a written statement on the matter to CBC News.
"CN provides a list of all Dangerous Goods, by product and quantity, that moved through a community in the previous year ... so that the community's first responders can prepare and train for emergency response. CN assists in obtaining training," it said.
Hampstead Mayor Steinberg said that information also needs to be made available to individual citizens, not just to local officials.