Fact check: City can release info on dangerous goods passing through Regina by train

CP Rail and CN are supposed to provide the City of Regina with annual reports on the top 10 most dangerous goods shipped through the city by volume.

Some data is confidential, but some can be made public, Transport Canada says

Transport Canada says a jurisdiction can be provided with an summary of the dangerous goods shipped through its communities on an annual basis. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

City officials have permission to release details about what dangerous goods are transported through Regina's communities by rail, despite previous statements from city hall saying it does not have permission.

Major rail companies such as Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway must provide a jurisdiction with reports summarizing the data of what dangerous materials are shipped through its areas.

Rail companies are mandated to do this under Transport Canada's protective direction No. 36, which instructs rail operators to disclose information about the hazardous materials they carry.

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens the Lac-Megantic rail disaster of 2013 is the worst case scenario.

Public Safety

Councillor Andrew Stevens, whose ward is falls adjacent to a main rail line, says local residents have a right to know what dangerous goods are transported close to their homes from a public safety perspective.

"When we have mega-events like Rider games and you have tens of thousands of people who are right there on the edge of a train, I think not only should they know, but I think if it's possible we should prevent those types of dangerous goods from actually being transported through the city at those particular times," he said on Thursday.

'The Lac-Megantic disaster highlighted what can happen—it's the worst case scenario,'- Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens

Stevens said he would want all of city council, fire and emergency officials, as well as Public Safety Minister and local MP Ralph Goodale, to discuss the implications of public reporting before any next steps are taken.

"The Lac-Megantic disaster highlighted what can happen — it's the worst case scenario," he said.

"I think that should force any councillor and any resident here to start thinking about it."

Reported occurances of runaway rail cars in Saskatchewan:

  • 2016:7
  • 2015: 4
  • 2014:5
  • 2013:7
  • 2012:8

(Data provided by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Federal rules OK public reporting

Fred Searle, the City of Regina's manager of current planning, recently confirmed the city receives regular reports from rail companies about the specific types and volume of dangerous goods that are transported on rail cars through the city.

He said that data was confidential and could not be released at CBC News' request.

Natasha Gauthier, a media relations officer with Transport Canada, says municipalities and First Nations registered with the regulator's 24-hour emergency planning centre do receive confidental data on rail companies' shipments. 

CP Rail says it's up to designated city officials to release summaries like this to its residents. (CP Rail)

She said this information is for emergency-planning purposes and employees who receive the reports must sign non-disclosure agreements. 

But she added that rail operators are also required to provide a secondary summary report that can be released publicly if civic officials choose to.

The report would contain a top-10 list of dangerous goods shipped through a jurisdiction by volume in the previous year, similar to the ones published on CN and CP Rail's websites that provide breakdowns by province. 

Major rail companies are required to post summaries of the top ten dangerous goods shipped through a province each year. Registered cites, First Nations or towns are supposed to receive a similar breakdown for a jurisdiction (CN Rail)

On Thursday, CBC News presented its findings to Desirae Bernreuther, a media relations officer at the city, but the city did not respond as of late Thursday night. 

Merits of disclosure

A rail transportation expert and engineer professor at the University of British Columbia questions the benefits of having rail companies or cities publicity disclose freight shipments.

"The railways are businesses first of all," said Gordon Lovegrove. "The number one goal of business is to stay in business and when you start reporting what you're carrying and that goes public you're actually putting your business at risk because your competitors know."

He also questions whether the public would even pay attention.

"If people wanted to know, really, honestly, couldn't they go to their politicians, couldn't we create another avenue for that? If people really want to find out and they have a legitimate [argument] — 'because I am a neighbour, I pay taxes, here's my address,' — why not that route?"