What's in those rail tankers?


Provincial and municipal leaders are demanding the right to know what's in the rail tankers that are speeding through their communities and fear for the safety of their towns and cities. Today, we're exploring who knows what about what's inside the tankers and what it all means for the trains.

"That's two derailments in one month here in the city of Calgary. Again we had an enormous amount of trouble getting a straight answer from CP what was in those cars. I don't understand why the railroad has so much trouble understanding what it is they are shipping and or telling people what it is they are shipping. Once again it was city staff who has no regulatory authority on this - risking their lives to solve the problem. And we can't solve the problem if we aren't given accurate information at the beginning".

Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi isn't alone in trying to discover exactly what's inside the tankers that criss-cross the country's rails. Since June, two trains -- both carrying potentially hazardous materials -- derailed near Calgary.

Earlier this week, 17 rail cars -- some carrying ethanol and natural gas condensate -- jumped the tracks about 100 kilometres west of Saskatoon. And the investigation into the disaster at Lac-Mégantic reveals that the crude oil in at least some of those tankers may have been improperly labeled.

Claude Dauphin is the mayor of the Borough of Lachin, within the city of Montreal and President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He says local leaders across the country want the right to know what's in the tankers that are speeding through their communities.

"Because as you know, we are on the front line if anything happens. Our first responders we are the ones that have to make the evacuation plan if anything happens and that's our biggest concerns for our members across the country. The municipalities are on the frontline and we know nothing what is passing through our communities and we need concrete steps on that".

Claude Dauphin, Mayor or the borough of Lachin

Earlier this week, provincial transport ministers gathered in Winnipeg for their annual meeting. They came out asking Ottawa to force railway companies to be more open about what they're hauling. Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says she's open to listening but wouldn't further commit.

Steve Ashton is Manitoba's Minister of Transportation. He chaired the meeting of provincial and federal ministers. Steve Ashton was in Winnipeg.

Keith Stewart follows the rail industry closely and has concerns. He is the Climate and Energy campaign coordinator for Greenpeace Canada. He was in Toronto.

We requested interviews with Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver. Both turned down our request.

We left messages requesting interviews with the Railway Association of Canada and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada. Neither of them returned our calls. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers declined our request for an interview but said in a statement that the association relies on the rail and pipeline companies transporting their products to ensure they get to market safely and that the association supports regulations to ensure safety.

So what should we know about what's being pulled across Canada's rails?

David Jeanes is the President of Transport Action Canada, an independent national advocacy group for public transportation. He was in Ottawa.

Do rail tankers go through your city or town? Are you worried about safety?

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This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien and Gord Westmacott.

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