As It Happens

Activist says workers were at the site of a CP tanker derailment in Wisconsin days before

A CP train carrying crude oil went off the tracks in Watertown, Wisconsin, on Sunday. Community activist Sarah Zarling says she saw CP staff working at the site of the derailment just last week.
Sarah Zaling runs the community group Citizens Acting For Rail Safety in Watertown, Wisconsin, where a CP train carrying crude oil derailed on Nov. 8. (Courtesy of Sarah Zaling, and John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal/AP)

A town in Wisconsin is in shock after a Canadian Pacific train carrying crude oil derailed in the town of Watertown Sunday. 

Although no one was hurt, dozens of homes in the "blast zone" were evacuated.

Sarah Zarling lives right by the tracks and runs the local community group Citizens Acting For Rail Safety. Zarling tells As It Happens guest host Helen Mann she photographed CP workers at the site of the accident only a few days ago.

Here is an edited transcript of part of their conversation. To hear the full interview, click "Listen" above.

Helen Mann: Walk us through what happened yesterday afternoon.

Sarah Zarling: I'm in my kitchen. I'm making lunch and I'm watching the oil train go by out my window because I live less than a block from the track. And so I was getting ready to report the train in. And, literally, one minute, the train goes by and the next minute, we hear this really loud boom... I just grabbed my phone and I took off running and I told my husband, I yelled to him, I said, "Get the kids out of the house," because I know enough blast zones that you don't want to be near one of them when one of those things derails.

HM: You've been concerned about CP trains that carry this oil coming through your community since before the incident, obviously. What sparked your concern?

SZ: Well, I've lived in this house for about a year and I didn't know what all trains were or what the blast zone was when I moved in. Otherwise, I wouldn't have wanted to live here. Knowing what I know now, I don't want to live here, especially now that there's been a derailment here... and after especially learning about [the deadly derailment at] Lac Megantic and what happened there. You know, those people are always in my mind. That town is always in my mind when I do what I do because I feel like it's just a matter of time before there's another Lac Megantic.

HM: Now your proximity to the tracks is a big concern. What about the condition of the tracks and the whole rail system through there?

SZ: Oh, that's a big concern, big time, because Canadian Pacific was just out looking at the track where the derailment happened just days ago. They were out, I think, last Wednesday. And I have, on my Facebook page, I have pictures of them working out there because I was curious. This stuff's on my radar and so I saw their work trucks in town and I hadn't heard that they were going to be here and so, you know, I wanted to see what they were up to and so I found them down right where the derailment happened.

HM: Right where it happened?

SZ: Correct. Yes.

Canadian Pacific spokesperson Andy Cummings provided a statement in response to Zarling's comments about seeing CP employees working on the track last week: "We do inspections and maintenance on an ongoing basis, as part of our commitment to meeting or exceeding all federal standards." CP is currently investigating the incident. 

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