Could Toronto be the next Lac-Mégantic disaster?

(Approximation of the Lac-Mégantic Disaster 1km blast area if the accident had occurred when it was  scheduled to pass through Toronto on the old CP rail line north of Dupont St. a few days later. To view this map through google maps please see:  Blast Area Map Toronto)

 

A poll released by Forum Research this weekend shows that two thirds of Toronto residents feel rail shipments of flammable crude oil should not be allowed through Toronto.

The Toronto Star Reports that, "out of 1,271 Torontonians aged 18 years or older, 69 per cent said the dangerous good should not be carried by rail through Toronto."

Most Torontonians don’t know the train that exploded in Lac-Mégantic was scheduled to pass through Toronto on the old CP rail line north of Dupont St. a few days later,” said Forum president Lorne Bozinoff. 

Despite the fact that this hazardous freight continues to be shipped through many neighbourhoods across Canada, rail companies refuse to make this information public (citing 'security concerns'), despite a community's right to know what is moving past their homes, schools, hospitals and daycares.

This past week, Hamilton fire chief Rob Simonds revealed that 7 per cent of the railcars that passed through his city last year carried dangerous goods. Ajax’s mayor Steve Parish has pledged he will make this information public as soon as he receives it from the railway.

But in Canada's largest city, neither the rail company or the municipality will give Torontonians any information so they can make informed decisions and have a conversation about what is being shipped through one of the most densely populated areas in the country.

 

(Lac-Mégantic pollutant levels were as much as 27 times higher than accepted levels in samples taken from the river at a site 4.7 kilometres downstream from the lake. "There is still a lot of oil on the bottom of the Chaudière River.")

A leading rail transportation expert Greg Gormack, who has done research for CP, CN and the Canadian government, recently stated, “I’m not an alarmist, but a derailment can occur anywhere. What would happen if a train derailed say over the bridge across Yonge St. or Avenue Rd, right in the heart of the city? It would be cataclysmic!”

Even more alarming is numerous studies have indicated that the dangerous DOT-111 tank cars  — the type involved in July's fiery explosion at Lac Megantic, Quebec — caring highly flammable crude are, "trundling on rail lines through the heart of Toronto in aged tank cars widely recognized as substandard."  This mixture is more volatile than gasoline according to the recent Transportation Safety Board of Canada Report.

DOT-111 cars were flagged as problematic beginning in the 1990s due to their tendency to breach in a derailment. Yet, oil shipments by rail have increased dramatically in Canada to an estimated 140,000 in 2013, Bakkan crude which explosive than traditional crude.

"Also rising in number are the tank cars using the Canadian Pacific rail line that runs through Toronto from the Junction neighbourhood along Dupont St. before curving northward just west of the Don Valley." 

 

(Schools and hospitals in one west Toronto section of the blast radius)

 

Over the last 25 years, Transport Canada has increasingly devolved the responsibility for, and management of, safety rules to the companies themselves; this is occurring at the same time as regulatory harmonization initiatives have been underway since NAFTA. This, along with the Harper governments current cuts to, "Transport Canada’s rail safety division budget was cut by 19 per cent from 2010 to 2014 and frozen until at least 2015-16. The transportation of dangerous goods budget has been frozen since 2010." So, "this is the equivalent of one inspector for every 4,500 carloads of crude oil, up from one per 14 in 2009. By the end of this year, it will be one per 9,000 carloads."

At the same time, "In Canada, shale oil and bitumen transported by rail has increased from 500 carloads in 2009 to an estimated 140,000 carloads in 2013. North American rail giants CN and CP have both been riding the oil wave, reaping huge increases in profits. CP estimates that it will haul 70,000 carloads in 2013, up from 13,000 in 2012. CN anticipates carrying 60,000 carloads in 2013, double the 30,000 hauled last year. Shipments by rail of Alberta bitumen are expected to rise by 425,000 barrels per day by end of 2014 compared to 130,000 barrels per day currently."

 

(Ward 22 St Paul's. 2011 Population 65,515 - 7.65 Thousand People Per Square Km2. “Crude oil has been transported over the past couple years right through the heart of one of the most densely populated areas in the entire country, without any consultation, any public notices,” said Councillor Josh Matlow")

 

Unifor president Jerry Dias and many others have urged Lisa Raitt, the federal minister of transport, for an immediate moratorium on the use of DOT-111 cars. Since the Lac Megantic disaster, it is no surprise Lisa Raitt and the Harper government have been noncommittal regarding a moratorium or replacement of the DOT-111 while they collude with lobbyists from the rail industry and big oil (who are both against a moratorium of the DOT-111 cars). Further, on Jan. 13, 2014, after the derailment in Plaster Rock, N.B., she reportedly stated that DOT-111 tank cars were not a cause for concern. “These cars are safe.”

The solution to this dangerous situation is not putting dilbit through aging pipelines either.
This is an unacceptable risk to the lives, well being and environment of Torontonians, along with all communities who face DOT-111 cars full of Bakkan oil rumbling through their back yards. What Canadians need, and demand, is a right to make informed decisions about the future of their communities, engage in constructive conversation with all the information, and have their government give them the same respect afforded to private companies.

 

( GE Hitachi Nuclear Facility clearly within the radius of a blast like Lac-Magnatic)

The Council of Canadians supports the call for an immediate moratorium on the use of DOT-111A cars.

Further reading
Oil cars on fire after train collision in North Dakota
Moving oil by rail to expand despite public concerns
Harper told no regulatory approval needed for moving tar sands oil by rail