Workers Health & Safety Centre

Toronto community holds forum on rail safety in wake of Lac-Mégantic tragedy

In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy citizens from the Junction, a small Toronto community, recently held a forum to voice concerns on rail safety in their neighbourhood.

The Junction which is in the riding of Parkdale—High Park is bounded on three sides by some of the busiest cross-country rail lines in Canada. In fact a Canadian Pacific railway line abuts onto a popular park where children play.
The incident in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which left 47 people dead in August of 2014, made the Junction community keenly aware of the possibility of derailments, explosions, or spills of dangerous materials occurring in their neighbourhood. As such, they formed an organization called Safe Rail Communities whose mandate is to raise awareness and advocate for better rail safety regulations.
Working with MP Peggy Nash, Safe Rail Communities organized the forum to provide members of the community an opportunity to voice their concerns and become better informed on the federal government’s plans for rail safety in their neighbourhood.
Recently the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released a report on their investigation of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA) train derailment in Lac-Mégantic.  The Railway Investigation Report contains a description of the incident, along with TSB’s findings and recommendations.
To address their findings, TSB made five recommendations to ensure rail safety in future. They were as follows:
  1. Transport Canada must take a more hands-on role when it comes to railways’ safety management systems—making sure not just that they exist, but that they are working and effective.
  2. Canadian railways must put in place additional physical defences to prevent runaways.
  3. Emergency response assistance plans must be created when large volumes of liquid hydrocarbons, like oil, are shipped.
  4. Railway companies should conduct strategic route-planning and enhance train operations for all trains carrying dangerous goods.
  5. Enhanced protection standards must be put in place for Class 111 tank cars.

Although some of the recommendations have been addressed by the rail industry there is still much to be done.
Soon after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, the rail industry began the process of phasing out the old Class 111 tank cars from use in the transportation of dangerous goods. These tank cars were manufactured between 1980 and 2012 and no longer meet the new enhanced protection standards recently set out by the TSB. 
Almost every car that derailed in Lac-Mégantic was breached/damaged. As a result the petroleum crude oil was released and fuelled the fire. The damage to the fuel cars could have been reduced by enhanced safety features such as a jacket, a full head shield and thermal protection. The old Class 111 tanks lack these enhancements and are thus being phased out.
In addition, there is still the problem of the dangerous goods themselves. Front-line emergency responders are never quite certain of the dangerous materials they will face when arriving at the scene of an incident. There is often times a residue of one toxic chemical in the tank when another is added to it making the documentation on the tanker car inaccurate.
Also, the government has imposed speed restrictions on trains carrying dangerous goods through communities however these speeds are still too fast at 50 mph. Municipalities are calling for speeds as low as 20 to 10 mph through their communities. And the Federation of Municipalities says that their members want to be notified in advance, of any shipment of dangerous goods coming into the city.
Nash hopes the forum held in the Junction is the beginning of several events in communities across the country. “Only then will the government wake up and improve rail safety before another Lac-Mégantic takes place.”
Want to read the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s Railway Investigation Report?
Want to read the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report on the regulatory failures behind the Lac-Mégantic disaster?