News Local

CN assures communities that rail safety is on track

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

Gil Brocanier

Gil Brocanier


In the wake of the derailment of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec last month, CN has been reaching out to communities to assure them rail transport is "handled with a high level of safety" and local first responders are informed about the types of commodities that travel across Northumberland and other parts of the country.

"More than 99% of dangerous goods moving by rail arrive at a destination without a release caused by an accident," states a media release about the products that travel on CN's 23,000 miles of track.

Northumberland County councillors were not among those communities seeking information from CN following the loss of life and damage to the downtown in Lac-Megantic, says acting chief administrative officer Diane Cane. Cobourg Mayor Gil Brocanier, former county warden, said there was no need for his municipality to do that.

CN communications officer Lindsay Fedchyshyn contacted him the Monday following the horrendous July 6 derailment in Quebec to provide an update on "all the safety measures CN is taking." This was followed up by a telephone call from Sean Finn, CN's executive vice-president of corporate services, Brocanier said, adding he expected the other mayors in the county were similarly contacted.

Port Hope Mayor Linda Thompson was not available for comment.

Cane agreed with Brocanier that the county didn't seek specific information because first response is handled more at the local community level.

However, she said, the county was part of an emergency exercise surrounding a simulated train derailment in Cobourg's Northam Industrial Park several years ago.

And there was a lot of communication with the county related to the derailment in Hamilton Township about two years ago near Port Hope's border, she said.

(There was property damage but no loss of life or direct injuries from the crash that involved a small evacuation in the area.)

The county's emergency planner, Ken Stubbings, was on vacation and unavailable to answer specific question related to CN's statement that it "shares with responsible authorities, including municipal officials and responders, information on what commodities are handled through their jurisdiction" – but Port Hope Fire Chief Rob Collins confirmed the municipality does receive this type of information, in conjunction with its emergency planning.

There are not, however, "regular updates" about the goods traveling on CN lines through the municipality, he added.

Collins also noted that far more dangerous goods than the railway tanker laden with crude oil (as in the Quebec derailment) travel through the county regularly. He noted that propane tanks and pressurized gases like those that burst into flames at the March 2011 Hamilton Township derailment are far more hazardous, especially if a derailment took place in an urban area, as it did in Quebec.

"We already know propane and butane goes through and we're prepared for that," he added.

Collins stressed that municipalities can plan for derailments but essentially they have to "rely on the railroads to operate safely and to do the right thing… and we cross our fingers not to get caught in their bad luck."

In its press release about CN safety, the railway also stated that it "will provide the information to qualified emergency responders, so long as they acknowledge that unauthorized dissemination can pose security risks, and agree that it will be used only by bona fide emergency planning and response organizations for contingency planning, and will not be disclosed without permission from CN."

It also stated, "CN works closely to help communities understand the movement of hazardous materials and what is required in the event of transportation incidents."

In addition it stated that "CN works with partner chemical companies to support communities with information sessions and training and simulations for community leaders and first-responders about hazardous commodities. In 2012, CN conducted more than 260 TRANSCAER® events in Canada and the United States involving more than 4,400 participants.

"CN works closely to help communities understand the movement of hazardous materials and what is required in the event of transportation incidents," it stressed.

Meanwhile, the recent train tragedy that has garnered ongoing attention and resulted in "the railway company that owned the crude-carrying runaway train that derailed and killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., (to announce) that its U.S. and Canadian branches have filed for bankruptcy protection," according to a Sun Media report.

Lawsuits and clean-up costs pegged in the millions prompted this action.

As of next week, the MMA’s licence to operate in Canada will be suspended by the federal government.

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