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The 2013 Lake Megantic derailment and fire - Date unknown Paul Chiasson.
13 March 2017
Report a Rail Safety Wake Up Call


Toronto Ontario - You probably haven't heard of Gogama, a small community in northeastern Ontario, but if you live anywhere near a railway line, you will want to pay attention.
 
This is particularly true if you live along the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) line that cuts through Toronto.
 
Gogama jumped into the headlines in February, 2015, when a 100 car Canadian National Railway freight train carrying a form of heavy oil from Alberta derailed on a broken track west of Gogama.
 
Nineteen of the 29 tank cars that came off the tracks broke open spilling 1.7 million litres of crude.
 
The crude ignited and burned for five days.
 
Then, two weeks later, a 94 car CN oil train derailed on a bridge near Gogama and 39 tank cars derailed, spilling oil into the river.
 
The ensuing explosion and fire destroyed the bridge.
 
Luckily, no one was hurt in either accident and the town of about 450 people suffered no damage.
 
And, fortunately for CN, the remote location (about 200 kilometres northwest of Sudbury) and the forbidding cold (-31C at the time of the derailment) limited the amount of media coverage it got even though it came less than two years after the Lake Megantic disaster that killed 47 people.
 
But a recent report by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) on the first accident concluded that more infernos are on the cards if the factors that cause derailment, chiefly, the speed at which trains run, the weight of the tank cars, the design of tank cars, the inadequacy of track maintenance, and of the training of railways workers aren't addressed.
 
The TSB report on the second accident has yet to be released.
 
Both trains would have passed through the Greater Toronto Area en route to a Quebec refinery.
 
The February train was travelling at 38 miles per hour (61 km/h), two mph below the federally mandated speed limit for trains carrying dangerous goods, and using tank cars built to newer (if insufficient) standards.
 
The TSB found that defects on the track went un-repaired because of shortfalls in training and supervisory support.
 
Transport Canada (TC) had not inspected that stretch of track in the two years before the derailments.
 
"This accident occurred on an isolated stretch of rail in northern Ontario and thankfully no one was injured," TSB chair Kathy Fox told a news conference when her report was issued.
 
"But so long as the same risks exist, track-maintenance issues, railway personnel training, train speed, and tank cars that aren't sufficiently robust, the consequences of the next rail accident may not only be environmental."
 
This is a chilling warning.
 
Last summer, Torontonians got a wake-up call when a CP train derailed as it moved along the Dupont Street corridor at Howland Avenue in the Annex (the same track over which the train to Lake Megantic had passed).
 
No one was hurt in that accident and only a small amount of diesel fuel was spilled.
 
The TSB is investigating and its report could come by the end of the year.
 
Two other CN freight trains have derailed this month, in Georgina on 5 Mar 2017 and near the Etobicoke North GO station two days later.
 
But, meanwhile, the CP line, which runs through some of Toronto's most densely populated areas, continues to carry dangerous goods at posted speeds higher than in the first Gogama derailment and in tank cars of the type that failed there.
 
In 2009, it carried just 500 oil tanker cars but the boom in fracking in North Dakota has been transformational and, at the peak in 2015, there were an estimated 140,000 car loads of volatile Bakken crude oil on the line.
 
Obviously, CP and CN are different lines, with different issues, but they both operate under the jurisdiction of TC.
 
Transport Minister Marc Garneau promised nearly a year ago that rail safety would be his No. 1 priority.
 
And yet the rail lines are still shipping dangerous goods at speeds the TSB is concerned may be too high and will be allowed to use deficient tank cars until 2025.
 
Rail safety remains a critical issue for communities large and small across Canada.
 
Garneau must listen to Mayor John Tory and 17 Toronto councillors representing neighbourhoods that border the CP line and quickly propose measures to allow Canadians to sleep safely in their homes at night.
 
Claire Kilgour-Hervey and Henry Wiercinski - of the lobby group "Rail Safety First".

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of the Canadian Copyright Modernization Act.
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