Montreal·In Depth

Denis Coderre presses feds for tougher rail safety measures

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre wants railways to reveal when dangerous cargo is being moved through the city.

'It's all about transparency. It's about good neighbours,' Montreal mayor says

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he wants more information about what's inside the trains going through his city. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre wants railways to reveal when dangerous cargo is being moved through the city.

He is pushing Transport Canada to beef up its rail safety rules so cities know what is being transported in advance.

Currently, emergency planning officials receive annual reports with quarterly breakdowns of dangerous goods that travel through cities. The reports can be used to identify risks and coordinate emergency planning and training.

But Coderre says it's not good enough.

We want to make sure we know what's on the train, and we've been making those demands since the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic.- Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre

"I don't want to have an idea, I want to know," says Coderre, who has spoken with newly appointed Transport Minister Marc Garneau several times about making improvements.

"It's all about transparency. It's about good neighbours. It's about those companies having to be great corporate citizens."

The comments come after last month's derailment near the Hochelaga rail yard.

Accident raises questions

On Oct. 29, several empty Canadian Pacific railcars jumped the tracks.

A man living in Montreal's east end woke up to a train car in his yard last month. No one was injured but several homes had to be evacuated. (CBC)
One of the loose cars slammed into some row houses, forcing emergency officials to evacuate nearly a dozen homes.

Although fire officials quickly realized the train cars that derailed last month were empty, Coderre said some of his staff didn't have all the data they needed, so felt as if they were working blindfolded.

"Nothing happened and there was no major incident, but nevertheless, something bad could have happened, says Coderre .

At the time, Coderre said the incident raised questions about track maintenance and the need for more information about what freight trains are carrying through cities.

"The next [federal] minister of transport will have to work with us to make sure we have all the information of what's going on on our rails," Coderre said.

"We need to have good information at the beginning. We want to make sure we know what's on the train, and we've been making those demands since the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic."

What municipalities know now

Transport Canada took steps to improve rail safety after the 2013 Lac-Megantic train derailment that killed 47 people.

In November of the same year, Transport Canada issued new rules — known as a protective direction — that required all Canadian railways to give municipalities an overall picture of the type and volume of dangerous goods being transported.

Dangerous goods include crude oil, propane, ammonia and fertilizers.

As of Oct. 30, 2015, 767 municipalities across Canada have requested access to this information.

This spring, the Railway Association of Canada, which represents all the railways operating in Canada, announced a new mobile app called AskRail.

The app gives first responders real-time information about a train car's contents in the event of an emergency.

Risk and reward

Not everyone sees the value in cities knowing about every carload of dangerous goods beforehand.

Gérald Gauthier of the Railway Association of Canada says the annual reports cities receive are sufficient. He's worried about the security of the information if it is provided ahead of time.

"We want to make sure that only those who need the information receive it," says Gauthier, the association's vice-president of public and corporate affairs.

"It's a risk that we don't feel should be taken at this stage."

He also points out that while bigger cities such as Montreal have emergency planning departments that can manage this info, there are smaller towns, with volunteer firefighting forces who could be quickly overwhelmed if the information was streaming in on a daily basis.

Clock ticking

The current protective direction, which was issued by former Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, runs out next fall.

The Transport Ministry will consult with the Railway Association and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to determine if the order should be made permanent, extended or if changes should be made.

In an interview with CBC Montreal's Daybreak shortly after he was appointed, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he planned on making rail safety one of his top priorities.

About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at


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