Montreal joined by Toronto, Vancouver in push for improved rail safety

Like Montreal, officials in Toronto and Vancouver say improvements to rail safety in the wake of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic derailment don't go far enough.


CBC News this week revealed that Canada’s rail regulator has waived a number of safety rules and orders for both CN Rail and CP Rail operations in recent years. But Transport Canada has refused to offer reasons. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The federal government and railways agreed to a series of regulations to improve rail safety in the wake of the July 2013 derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic.

But several cities, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, say the improvements still don't go far enough. 

Last spring, Transport Canada announced new guidelines for rail tanker cars which include a thicker steel wall and thermal protection jacket. Others new regulations include:

  • Older tankers carrying crude oil must be phased out by 2020. 
  • All tank cars carrying flammable or explosive goods must be up to the latest standards by 2025.
  • Municipalities also have access to annual reports on the type and volume of dangerous goods being carried through their cities.

Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver still say more can be done.

Alternate routes?

The City of Toronto called on Transport Canada earlier this year to explore alternate routes for dangerous goods and look at regulations to reduce train speed through urban areas.

The quality of the tracks and regular maintenance was also a concern. Similar to Montreal, many of the rail lines in Toronto go very close to residential homes.

For its part, the City of Vancouver says the annual reports made mandatory by Transport Canada do give quarterly breakdowns of dangerous goods, but it's a "retrospective" and does not reflect the maximum loads shipped on a single train.

"A single car derailing with a dangerous good does not require the same capacity as seven cars with the dangerous good," Daniel Stevens,Vancouver's director of emergency planning, said in an email to CBC.

"Knowing the maximum quantities transported at a given time will help our local responders in ensuring they have the appropriate capacity to respond as well as the training for the specific dangerous good."

Striking a balance

Like Montreal, Vancouver would like to be alerted to dangerous goods ahead of time, which would alllow emergency responders to flag the shipments that may contain goods that exceed our ability to respond, Stevens said.

He said Hazmat teams would be better prepared if the railways alerted them if a shipment was coming through with goods not normally transport or with cargo that exceeded a certain quantity.

"This may strike a balance between being notified of everything and not being notified at all," he said.

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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