Politics

Mayors want greater oversight of rail traffic

Municipal leaders across the country are frustrated that rail companies are exempt from municipal regulations. Poilievre says the federal government is open to hearing their concerns.

Growing number of mayors want railway oversight

Current law requires rail companies only to notify municipalities of extremely dangerous goods like nuclear waste moving through their communities. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Sarnia's longtime mayor Mike Bradley is one of a growing number of mayors who wants the federal government to allow municipalities to have greater oversight of rail traffic that moves through their boundaries, and make rail companies more accountable to local communities.

Hundreds of rail cars wind their way through the city of Sarnia every day. The city is home to the country's petrochemical industry, with more than 60 chemical companies and refineries concentrated in an area known as Chemical Valley.

"We'd like more authority," Bradley said in an interview with host Kathleen Petty on CBC Radio's The House. "We've seen several derailments over the years where there's been no communication to the community."

Last month, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi voiced similar frustrations as six tanker cars filled with oil products teetered on a rail bridge, threatening to dump into the flooded Bow River, after the city was swamped with torrential rains.

"How is it we don't have regulatory authority over this," asked Nenshi. "But it's my guys down there risking their lives?"

"What it comes down to is Canadian National is an entity unto themselves," says Bradley. "They don't have to come to us unless it's really to their benefit to do so. We've been very fortunate in the last number of years in not having a significant incident but we've had situations which really quickly could have deteriorated."

Current law requires rail companies only to notify municipalities of extremely dangerous goods like nuclear waste moving through their communities.

Municipal regulations likely "logistically impossible"

Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the minister of transport, said in an interview on The House that the federal government is open to hearing from mayors on this.

"I think we need to invite the mayors to provide more input into how the federal government regulates the rail sector," he said, noting they would consider those concerns when crafting rules for the industry.

But as for cities having oversight of rail traffic, Poilievre said that would be difficult.

"That is a little different than asking for specific legal powers at a municipal level which I think would be logistically impossible."

In a statement to CBC Radio, CN said it has been reaching out to mayors across the country following the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic to provide information on CN rail safety practices and policies.

Listen to the full interviews with Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley and Pierre Poilievre on CBC Radio's The House.