Manitoba town wants to know what rail cars are carrying

The train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., has the mayor of a rural Manitoba town demanding to know what's travelling by rail through his community.

Lac-Megantic disaster worries Manitobans

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

8 years ago
The train derailment and explosion that devastated Lac-Megantic, Que., has some in Manitoba worried about rail traffic that runs through their communities. 1:55

The train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., has the mayor of a rural Manitoba town demanding to know what's travelling by rail through his community.

Ste. Anne Mayor Bernie Vermette says residents never know what's in the rail cars that travel through town every day.

"What we would need to know is what kind of materials is toxic and what can be dangerous to human life and whatever, so at least our emergency measures operations that … we have would know how to address the issue if something did happen," he told CBC News Tuesday.

Town council will discuss at its next meeting how officials can find out more about the contents of the rail cars, Vermette said.

Concerns about rail safety have surfaced in the wake of a fatal train derailment that set off a series of explosions in Lac-Mégantic over the weekend.

The train, which was carrying crude oil, had been parked uphill of Lac-Mégantic before it somehow became loose and careened into the small community early Saturday morning.

The incident killed at least 15 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings in the heart of the small town in Quebec's Eastern Townships. About 40 people remain missing.

Police in Quebec announced Tuesday that a criminal investigation is underway as officers continue to comb through the rubble and search for the missing people.

The incident has shone the spotlight on the political debate over oil transportation and Canada's rapidly expanding oil-by-rail industry.

Rail shipments of oil in Canada have gone from about 6,000 train carloads in 2009 to an estimated 14,000 this year, according to Statistics Canada and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Change the rules, says Winnipegger

In Winnipeg, some residents who live near rail lines have started worrying that an explosion like the one in Lac-Mégantic could happen in the city.

Among those who are concerned is Judy Plotkin of the River Heights Residents Association, who started looking at the rail lines in her neighbourhood after a number of silos were erected on railway land near her home.

Plotkin said she tried fighting to have the silos removed, but then she learned that the railways don't have to follow municipal rules.

"The jurisdictional dance has been going on since the beginning of time and it's time to stop that. It's time to really change the rules," she said.

Plotkin said she hopes the devastation in Quebec will prompt politicians to change the rules around railways and ultimately move them outside of communities.

Barry Prentice, a transportation expert with the the University of Manitoba, said what happened in Quebec would likely not happen on Winnipeg's rail lines because the trains operate at controlled speeds and under supervision.