A2: Increasing Rail Transportation Safety

Transportation and Communication,Railways


Endorsed by the NCLGA Membership


WHEREAS dangerous and hazardous goods are transported by rail through communities daily;

AND WHEREAS current legislation’s historical reporting does not allow first responders to develop accurate, premeditated emergency plans;

AND WHEREAS derailments and container corruptions continue to happen across Canada (Lac-Megantic, Quebec; Gogoma, Ontario; and Vancouver, British Columbia) as newer, safer crude oil tanker design will not be fully integrated until 2025:

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the North Central Local Government Association, the Union of British Columbian Municipalities, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities lobby the Federal Government to create a comprehensive national strategy for the rail transportation of dangerous and hazardous goods by 2020.

Key deliverables from the national strategy will include:

  1. Mutual cooperation and input from the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, as well as the Federal Government (specifically, the Ministries of Transport, Industry, Environment, and Health) and all Class 1 Rail Companies (Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, and Via Rail Canada);
  2. A security-focused, prevention-based reporting structure to allow first responders and key municipal officials information about dangerous and hazardous goods before they pass through their community;
  3. Additional funding for first responders in small, rural communities (under 10,000) to access training in order to effectively deal with dangerous and hazardous goods spills and container breaches; and
  4. A strategy to allow for local governments to induce timely inquiries into infrastructure safety after rail derailments or similar failures.

Background Information

As development on key crude oil pipelines have slowed (Keystone XL, Enbridge Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan Burnaby Mountain), the reasonable alternative has been to transport crude oil by railcar to its given destination. However, as the recent disaster in Gogoma, Ontario illustrates, the safety of the current freight cars is not up to the standards that post-Lac-Megantic planning hoped to achieve.

Safer, better engineered freight cars are being designed. However, these cars will not be widely used in Canada for another decade (full implementation is set for 2025). At the same time, Canada’s infrastructure ages or becomes obsolete – such as Calgary’s Bonnybrook Bridge collapse, or Gogoma, Ontario’s multiple derailments (the third CN derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month, and the second in the same area).




From the Transportation Safety Board of Canada:

In 2013, 144 accidents involved dangerous goods, up from 119 in 2012 and up from the five-year average of 133. Seven accidents resulted in a dangerous goods release in 2013, compared to 2 in 2012, and the five-year average of 3. Five of the 7 accidents involved petroleum crude oil. This increase is concurrent with an increase in shipments of crude oil by rail from 500 car loads in 2009 to 160,000 car loads in 2013.

From the Vancouver Sun, with data from Transport Canada:

A total of 3,133 carloads containing 250,185 tonnes of crude were transported in B.C. during the first nine months of 2014, according to the latest Transport Canada figures provided at The Vancouver Sun’s request. With three months to go in the year, that amount was already close to the 3,381 carloads and 262,613 tonnes of oil — a record — hauled by rail in B.C. during all of 2013. As evidence of the dramatic increase in crude-oil shipments by rail, there were just six carloads containing 251 tonnes as recently as 2009 in B.C.

While rail transport of other petroleum products in B.C. such as gasoline, diesel, propane and aviation fuel by far exceeds that of crude oil, the rate of increase is not nearly as dramatic. There were 30,859 such railcars hauling 2.5 million tonnes of product during the first nine months of 2014 compared with 42,555 cars hauling 3.6 million tonnes in 2013 and 29,470 cars hauling 2.4 million tonnes in 2009.

While many, large-scale disasters have become widely publicized by the media, they are many more yet that do not become common knowledge. The social and economic threat these disasters pose are only magnified when coupled with the significant ecological and environmental damage any sort of dangerous goods spill incur.

While the Federation of Canadian Municipalities partnered with the Federal Government and rail companies across Canada in order for first responders to receive yearly aggregate data, dispersed every 3 months from all Class 1 rail companies, the historical nature of this data does not adequately prepare first responders in communities to deal with an accident once it is in full swing. A variety of fire types (including crude oil spills) can be combated by a Class C dry chemical compound, however, such as the Vancouver, B.C., fire recently illustrated, not all lasting health and safety effects can be suppressed by fighting the blaze.

Finally, it has been put forth that safety threats make discussing the upcoming load of freight cars unthinkable. However, the United Nations has decreed that the transport of all dangerous goods must be labeled by a four-digit “UN Hazard Identifier.” This international number identifies exactly what dangerous compound the railcar is carrying, thus nullifying the presumption that these dangerous loads out of the public sphere’s knowledge.