Nova Scotia

30 trains with dangerous goods on N.S. tracks each week

The fatal train derailment in Quebec is raising serious questions about dangerous goods being transported across Canada, including shipments travelling across Nova Scotia each week.

Safety concerns mount about railway safety across Canada

Two CN trains are seen at a rail intersection in North Vancouver, B.C. As North American oil production continues to outpace pipeline capacity, shipment by rail is increasingly common, and critics worry that safety regulations have not kept up with expansion Thursday, May 10, 2012. (Jonathan Haywar/The Canadian Press)

The fatal train derailment in Quebec is raising serious questions about dangerous goods being transported across Canada, including shipments travelling across Nova Scotia each week.

Dangerous goods including petroleum products and chemicals are transported across the province by train, but CN Rail won’t provide any details about the quantity of dangerous goods it moves.

It also moves import-export and domestic containers, finished vehicles, metals, forest products and agricultural products.

The provincial agency that oversees the central and northern rail line to Cape Breton says there are at least 30 train cars with dangerous goods on the tracks each week.

The consumer advocacy group Transport Action Atlantic said it’s mostly natural gas distillates coming from Guysborough.

Nova Scotia Senator Terry Mercer said it may be time to review rail safety rules, in light of the fatal train crash in Quebec.

The accident in Lac-Megantic has raised serious questions about the enforcement of railway safety, and Mercer said Canada's transportation act is due to be reviewed in 2015.

"What we need to do now after we learn what happened in Quebec and if there are things that need to be fixed all along the line, it shouldn’t just be Quebec  that it gets fixed, it needs to be fixed everywhere in the country including in Nova Scotia," he said.

"Maybe after the Transportation Safety Board reviews this tragedy someone will say, ‘maybe we should move that review of the Transportation Act up by a year.’ We may not be able to wait that long."

Derailments rare

John Pearce, president emeritus of Transport Action Atlantic, said in spite of the scale of the Lac-Megantic accident, rail is still a good way of transporting dangerous goods.

He said train cars made for carrying dangerous goods are heavily built, with double walls, so even if they derail it's usually safe.

He added that the accident rate is lower than transporting by highway since many tracks tend to skirt towns and cities.

The federal government said it will consider implementing regulatory changes if the investigation in Lac-Megantic highlights any serious faults.

In 2012, less than four per cent of oil shipped through Canada went by rail to coastal refineries and export centres, but that is still more than triple the 2011 figure. The amounts are expected to increase significantly in the coming years, according to the National Energy Board.

Rail shipments of oil in Canada have gone from 500 carloads in 2009 to an estimated 140,000 this year, a 28,000 per cent increase, according to the Canadian Railway Association.

 

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