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Council of Canadians calls for a stop to oil-by-rail shipments

Mark Calzavara

The Council of Canadians has called on the federal government to immediately halt rail shipments of crude oil in Canada following a series of derailments and explosions.

This past Saturday (March 7), 38 cars in a 94 car long CN train carrying crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands derailed near Gogama, a town located about 600 kilometres north of Toronto. The resulting fire burned for three full days. At least two of the cars plunged into the Makami River, which is part of the Mattagami River System. It’s not clear at this point how many barrels of oil were released with this incident. And less than a month ago (on February 14), 29 cars from a 100 car long CN train carrying crude oil from Alberta derailed just 37 kilometres from this weekend’s derailment. Seven of those cars caught fire. The Transportation Safety Board estimates that about 5,000 barrels of crude oil or petroleum distillates were released in that incident.

The rail cars involved in the March 7 explosion were CPC-1232 models with enhanced shielding and harder steel in accordance with the Harper government’s new safety standards. The February 14 incident involved Class-111 tank cars, all constructed within the past three years and compliant with the upgraded standards.

The Timmins Times has reported, “The TSB [Transportation Safety Board] report issued [on the February derailment] suggested that even the newer Class-111 tank cars are not tough enough to withstand even low speed crashes and that a better tank car is needed.” CBC reports, “Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault, who represents the riding of Sudbury, located about 190 kilometres south of Gogama, said Saturday’s incident clearly shows that the federal government must do more to strengthen rail safety regulations.”

And the Toronto Star reports, “Chief Walter Naveau of nearby Mattagami First Nation is concerned about the long-term impact of the [March 7th] accident, particularly on the river where five of the railcars landed. ‘That water body leads to our water body’, he said. ‘There is a very big concern regarding our water because it’s close to fish sanctuaries and our spawning grounds and goes right through our community here.'” Chief Naveau has also stated, “People in the community were feeling the effects of the toxins in the air – respiratory problems, they could feel it in their chests and their breathing.”

Toronto-based Council of Canadians organizer Mark Calzavara says, “Clearly the new tank cars are not safe enough to transport such dangerous and explosive cargo as crude oil and diluted bitumen. It’s time to put people’s lives ahead of profits, and for the government to stop allowing unsafe trains to travel through our communities, neighbourhoods and environment.”

About 160,000 carloads of crude oil were shipped by rail in Canada in 2013. A typical rail car carries about 700 barrels of oil. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has estimated on the basis of supply contracts that about 700,000 barrels per day of crude oil could be moved by rail in Canada in 2016. With a continued expansion of the tar sands, an increased amount of crude oil shipped by both rail and pipeline puts communities, waterways and the environment at further risk.

To hear a 30-minute segment on Zoomer Radio on this issue featuring Calzavara, please click here.

Photo: Council of Canadians organizer Mark Calzavara.