Since my election, I have been a strong advocate to improve rail safety in our community and for the removal of dangerous being transported through our densely populated urban centers. On August 21, a Canadian Pacific Train collided and derailed with another train along the CP rail corridor near Dupont and Spadina. As a result of the collision, approximately 1,100 litres of diesel fuel from the colliding locomotive was spilled onto the track area. Crews worked quickly to clean the spill and thankfully there were no serious injuries. This incident reinforces the need to make meaningful improvements in rail safety now.
We must continue to work with our Federal and Provincial governments to improve protections for communities living along rail corridors. I welcome the announcement from the Provincial Government this summer to begin stakeholder consultations to advance the "Missing Link" freight rail bypass. This project provides an unprecedented opportunity to move Canadian Pacific Rail's freight traffic off the CP tracks that run through Toronto. I also welcome Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau's expressed openness to enhanced rail safety measures and hisdetailed outline of current federal rail safety enhancements underway in response to the open letter that many City Councillors and Mayor Tory sent earlier this year calling for federal action. You can read the Minster Garneau's full response here.
While these measures represent a decisive start towards establishing sufficient protections for communities along rail lines, I will continue to advocate for further action on this important issue.
Recently, the Province of Ontario and Metrolinx announced an agreement in principle has been reached with Canadian National Rail to initiate further GO Regional Express Rail enhancements along the Kitchener GO Corridor. This agreement also provides a framework to initiate the planning and analysis work needed to advance the "Missing Link" freight rail bypass in consultation with stakeholders and the community. The "Missing Link" project provides an unprecedented opportunity to move Canadian Pacific Rail's freight traffic off the CP tracks that run through Toronto (which form the northern border of Ward 18) and to increase rail safety along this important corridor.
This initiative also opens a new potential for increased transit service in Toronto and across the region. I voted to direct City staff to engage in discussions with stakeholders and government partners to move this important project forward. I look forward to reviewing their feedback when they report to back in 2017.
I recently joined many of my council colleagues and Mayor Tory in calling on the Federal Government to enhance safety protections for neighbourhoods adjacent to the Canadian Pacific rail corridor which runs across our city, and forms the northern boundary of Ward 18.
Between 2009 and 2013, the amount of crude oil being shipped grew from 500 to 140,000 estimated loads, increasing the risk to our communities. Following a 2013 letter sent on behalf of City Council to Transport Canada, enhanced safety measures were adopted in 2014. These measures and the recently released dangerous good regulations from February 2016 include increased inspections, enhanced braking requirements, and crew safety reforms.
This renewed call for action builds on our advocacy in partnership with residents and rail safety groups to ensure that our neighbourhoods are safe. Some of the items we are calling for include:
- Accelerating the removal of all DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tanks cars, that do not meet new safety standards, as 2025 is too long to wait for full implementation;
- Promoting better communication between the rail industry and local communities; particularly as contemplated by the Key Train Rules;
- Examining alternative routes for transporting dangerous goods that currently pass through high density areas, as recommended in the Canada Transportation Act Review
The Chief Planner will be reporting to Council later this year on the status of the "Missing Link" initiative that would divert freight traffic around Toronto and other urban areas.
To read our joint letter, please click here.
To add your name to the growing petition from Safe Rail Communities demanding further action from our federal leaders to improve the safety of neighbourhoods around rail corridors, click here
Toronto Star - When the mayor of Canada's largest city sounds an alarm on rail safety, along with councillors from neighbourhoods at particular risk, federal officials would do well to listen. [View copy of the letter]
They would do even better to act before a catastrophe hits some large urban area.
The concerns expressed in a letter to federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt by Toronto Mayor John Tory, and 17 councillors from across the political spectrum, aren't the result of idle anxiety. On the contrary, they're a timely warning about gaps that persist in Canada's revamped rail-safety rules and regulations.
In the wake of the train derailment and subsequent inferno that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., it's essential that those gaps be closed.
The open letter to Raitt was initiated by Councillor Josh Matlow and signed by representatives of every ward traversed by a major Canadian Pacific rail line running through the city. As reported by the Star's Jessica McDiarmid, the politicians took a particularly strong stand due to worry that many residents' homes are located extremely close to tracks routinely used to transport dangerous goods.
While expressing appreciation for federal rail safety improvements brought in so far, the councillors who signed the letter are calling for more, including:
A look at using alternate routes to ship dangerous material currently moving through densely populated neighbourhoods.
Accelerated removal of tank cars, used to ship volatile crude oil, that don't meet Ottawa's revamped safety standards.
A review of those standards, especially in light of recent accidents in Northern Ontario involving supposedly better tank cars that did satisfy new federal requirements.
Two fiery derailments have happened near Gogama, Ont., between Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie, in recent weeks - one in February and one in March. The incidents were particularly troubling in that they involved tank cars that were meant to be a significant improvement over the old DOT-111 tankers that failed with such horrific consequences at Lac-Mégantic.
It's only a matter of luck that both these recent accidents occurred in isolated areas instead of in the middle of a city or town. Tougher, more crash-resistant tank cars are desperately needed, and they shouldn't be introduced through some leisurely, years-long regulatory phase-in.
The March 31 letter from Toronto's mayor and councillors also suggested "promoting better communication between the rail industry and communities." But that's not specific enough.
Rail carriers are currently required to tell municipal first-responders about hazardous goods moving through their city or town. Such information is passed along strictly on a confidential basis, so that fire departments and other agencies can be in a better position to draw up disaster-response plans.
But concerned residents living near rail lines also deserve to know, at least after the fact, the nature of what's being transported just outside their door. Unfortunately, Ottawa's reformed rules and regulations, so far, require no such clarity.
Members of the public deserve to be more thoroughly informed on rail safety issues; stronger tank cars need to be brought in more quickly and dangerous shipments should be detoured around dense urban areas. Once such measures are instituted, federal officials will be in a position to say honestly that they have taken every reasonable step to avoid another disaster on the scale of Lac-Mégantic.
[This story was reposted from the Toronto Star on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015]