Tighter regulations coming for freight train companies

Ottawa is set to move ahead with plans to give municipalities more information about potentially dangerous train traffic in their communities.

Lac-Mégantic disaster prompts demand for transparency about cargo hazards

Ottawa is set to tighten railway safety, after the deadly accident in Lac-Mégantic last summer when 72 tankers full of volatile crude oil derailed and burned. (CBC)

Ottawa is set to move ahead with plans to give municipalities more information about potentially dangerous train traffic in their communities.

CBC News and its French-language service Radio-Canada have learned that Ottawa is currently working on new regulations for train companies following this summer's deadly train crash in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

Ottawa pledged to improve regulations in the last throne speech, and rail safety was at the top of the list when federal and provincial transport ministers met in Winnipeg in September.

More transparency

The new guidelines are aimed at making freight companies more open and transparent about the materials they are transporting through towns and municipalities.

Major rail companies, such as CN and CP, would have to inform municipal officials of any major changes to their cargo. (CBC)

Under the new rules, all rail companies would have to provide annual reports to municipalities along their routes, outlining the nature and quantity of dangerous materials they have transported throughout the year.

The major companies — Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway — would also have to give quarterly updates.

Small rail companies are exempt from quarterly reports, but would have to inform municipal officials any time they make major changes to their cargo.

New rules are ‘a good start’

Municipal officials say they are happy with new rail safety regulations that Ottawa is set to introduce.

The head of Quebec's Federation of Municipalities, Bernard Généreux, said the new rules to ensure transparency are an important step and, had they been in place last July, could have sped up the relief effort in Lac-Mégantic.

Two months after the crash that left 47 people dead, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada announced the disaster was worse than initially thought, because the crude oil in the tankers was misidentified as a less volatile substance.

“It took several hours before firefighters could start to intervene with the right products. Knowing what was on that train would have allowed firefighters to be better prepared and to respond faster,” Généreux said.

But Généreux added that even if officials in Lac-Mégantic knew that the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway (MM&A) train was carrying 72 tankers full of crude oil, the accident still would not have been prevented.

He said once officials know what materials the trains are transporting, the municipalities will then need specialized equipment and trained personnel.

“Once we know, we have the right to act. The right to act means additional human resources and equipment,” Généreux said.

“All of this has a cost, so who will pay for this?”

Généreux said he would also like to see the new rules extended to cover all modes of transportation for dangerous materials, including trucks, ships and oil and gas pipelines.


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