Mayor John Tory and 17 councillors urge Marc Garneau to act on slew of concerns ignored by previous government.
The Toronto Star
This July 6, 2013 file photo shows smoke rising from railway cars carrying crude oil after derailing in downtown Lac Megantic, Quebec. The disaster killed 47 people. Photo: PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Mayor John Tory and a coalition of Toronto city councillors are taking their fight to bolster rail safety in the city to the recently elected federal government.
The mayor and 17 councillors whose wards rub up against the busy CP rail line that traverses the city’s core signed a letter sent to Transport Minister Marc Garneau on Monday, urging the Liberal government to introduce further safety measures.
The municipal coalition calls for an overhaul of regulations pertaining to safety management systems, the oft-criticized procedures by which the railroad industry, to some extent, regulates itself.
The councillors want a faster phase-out of older-model tank cars used to carry dangerous goods, currently set to be off the rails by 2025. They call for slower train speeds in urban areas, consideration of alternative routes to bypass densely populated regions and tighter rules surrounding insurance to ensure complete coverage in the event of a disaster.
The letter also renews a call for better communication between the rail industry and local communities, an issue that’s proved a major point of contention. Industry has refused to publicly disclose information about the type or amount of dangerous goods it moves through municipalities, along with risk assessments and emergency plans, arguing the data must remain secret to protect security and proprietary interests.
New rules adopted in the wake of the July 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., that killed 47 people require rail companies to provide information to municipalities for emergency planning under strict confidentiality agreements, which Canada’s largest railroads already did upon request.
“Better communication relates to public safety,” said Josh Matlow, the councillor for Ward 22 (St. Paul’s) who initiated the letter. “(If) people are informed, they’re able to make more informed decisions about where they live and as Canadians citizens . . . they can convey their concerns and their views in a way that they couldn’t if they don’t know what’s going through their neighbourhoods.”
The “lack of transparency” around dangerous-goods shipments is also a particular concern to Tory, according to a statement from his office. “The mayor believes people in a big city like Toronto who live close to rail lines should know what is travelling through their neighbourhood when, how much and how fast,” said the statement.
Many of the current demands echo those of a letter sent a year ago to then-Transport Minister Lisa Raitt in what was then an “unprecedented step” from largely the same group of councillors who united across political lines to insist upon rail safety improvements. For the most part, those requests fell on deaf ears.
Matlow said he hopes a new Parliament will respond differently, particularly now that Toronto MPs who were ardent rail safety supporters in opposition, such as Chrystia Freeland, Adam Vaughan and Carolyn Bennett, are now high-profile members of the majority Liberal government.
“I’m hopeful that that validation of our concerns and willingness to champion those concerns when in opposition will continue,” said Matlow.
A spokesperson said Garneau’s office had received the letter; the minister is reviewing it and will respond to councillors soon.
The government has issued new rules in the wake of the Lac-Megantic disaster, most recently in February 2016, but the measures fall short of what many local politicians and advocates want.
Henry Wiercinski, a member of a coalition of community and business associations called Rail Safety First, said there has been a “sea change” across the federal government that will hopefully lead to improvements. While a slew of fiery derailments in the wake of the Lac-Megantic disaster kept the issue at the forefront for some time, there’s risk of complacency when it’s not front-page news, he said.
“I think the municipality and the mayor should be commended for pushing the issue and not forgetting about it,” said Wiercinski. “Just because you don’t have a disaster doesn’t mean the issue has gone away.”
Early Tuesday morning, a 25-car derailment near North Bay, Ont., forced the evacuation of three homes. While the Ontario Northland train’s tank cars were empty at the time, at least one had contained sulphuric acid, according to a placard in photos of the site. Derailed cars and debris landed within a stone’s throw of at least one property.
Ana Bailao, councillor for Ward 18 (Davenport), said the safety of the rail line running through the community is still top of mind for her constituents.
“We want to bring this issue to (the federal government’s) attention,” said Bailao. “It’s something we continue to hear about, at town halls, at doors . . . People talk about this issue.”
This article, along with the full report, can be found in its original form at: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/04/06/city-takes-rail-worries-to-new-transport-minister.html