Provincial officials are calling on the Canadian government to improve information transparency when hazardous materials are shipped by rail. That way, municipalities can act accordingly after a derailment.
The plea for more detailed shipping information comes from the provincial transportation ministers’ meeting held on September 25-27, 2013 in Winnipeg, less than three months after the Lac-Mégantic train derailment left 47 dead and millions of litres of oil spilled over the Quebec landscape.
At the Winnipeg meeting, ministers met with provincial and federal counterparts on the transportation portfolio.
“City staff are risking their lives to deal with these emergencies and we are still unable to get specific information quickly about what is on these trains in order to ensure the safety of our residents. This simply cannot continue,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told delegates at the meeting.
There were two train derailments in Calgary over summer 2013. As the ministers gathered in Winnipeg, 17 Canadian National rail cars carrying petroleum and chemicals derailed west of Saskatoon.
Heading into the meeting, federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt told reporters she’s open to listening to the concerns of her colleagues, but would need more time to consider any further action.
Some federal officials have cautioned that making hazardous transport information widely available could pose a safety risk if someone wanted to commit an act of terrorism.
Still, the call for more hazardous material transparency has already gained support from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
“The tragedy in Lac-Mégantic and subsequent train derailments in other parts of the country have exposed the lack of coordination and communication with municipalities around rail disasters,” said FCM President Claude Dauphin to conference delegates during a September 27, 2013 discussion on rail safety. “I will be meeting again with Minister Raitt next week about our recommendations and I look forward to discussing some concrete next steps,” added Dauphin.
Following the Lac-Mégantic train disaster, FCM established a National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group. So far, it has targeted three areas for federal action:
- equip and support municipal first responders for rail emergencies
- ensure federal and industry policies and regulations address the rail safety concerns of municipalities
- prevent downloading of rail safety and emergency response costs to local taxpayers.