Saskatoon mayor wants more involvement in rail safety talks

Saskatoon's mayor says rail safety will have to start with knowing what's being transported on Saskatchewan rails.
On July 27, crews cleaned up the site of a train derailment near Lloydminster, Sask. (Courtesy of Newcap)

Saskatoon's mayor says rail safety will have to start with knowing what's being transported on Saskatchewan rails.

Don Atchison is part of the National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, formed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities after the train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que. that killed 47 people on July 6 and the rail bridge that collapsed in Calgary.  

The group held its first meeting Tuesday with a focus on taking a closer look at what's in rail cars passing through communities. 

"The end solution would be to move the railways, the rail lines," said Atchison, who has been trying to get rail companies to move the tracks passing through Saskatoon to the outskirts of the city. "In the meantime, to talk about how to make things more safe."

Atchison said the group is setting small goals and recognizing that each community has its own unique concerns.

"Here in Saskatoon we talk about the trains travelling through the city, other areas it's the whistles that are going, other areas it's the shunting," he said. "So consequently it's each and every area of the country have different concerns and I'd like to address those together, collectively."

The end goal is to get rail lines out of cities, said Atchison, but he realizes that would cost billions of dollars. 

In the meantime, the group is working on ways to make the railway system safer now, and is calling on the federal government to help.

"The federal government must work in close partnership with municipalities if it is going to effectively address rail safety," said Atchison. "Ensuring the safety of Canada’s rail system is without question a federal responsibility, but it requires careful coordination with all other orders of government."

Atchison said a national system needs to be set up to show what's in the cars moving through communities.

He added the information should be easily accessible to first responders who are called to derailments or other accidents.

The group will be holding several meetings throughout the summer and fall.  It will send its report to the National Board of Directors of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities later this year.