A rail safety town hall meeting hosted by MP Taylor Bachrach on May 20 saw more than 90 Northwest participants from communities as far west as Prince Rupert to Burns Lake join together online for discussions concerning regulations.
The just under two-hour meeting was attended by government officials, retried rail workers, community members, as well as special guest university lecturer and author of a book on the 2011 Lac Mégantic rail disaster, Bruce Campbell.
Bachrach, who sits on the federal transportation committee, said the goal of the meeting was to gather information from the wealth of knowledge in the NW to assist him in speaking at the rail safety hearings in Ottawa, as early as June.
“I’ll be taking the information I glean from tonights meeting into those hearings with me to try as best as I can to represent the concerns…” Bachrach said.
He said he has heard from local governments and communities up and down the rail corridor expressing concerns about the increased rail traffic and the increase in transport of dangerous goods.
“Some have asked for regional risks assessments, in other cases, specific questions have been asked around response capacity and other topics,” the M.P. said.
Bachrach said two parliamentary watchdogs have recently released reports that are relevant to the issues. The Interim Environment Commissioner released a report in Oct. 2020 on the transport of dangerous goods which raised some pretty troubling questions he said, as well more recently the Auditor General issued an audit report that spoke to concerns about Transport Canada’s regulations for the rail sector.
Noting the importance of the rail sector to the Northwest region, Bachrach said the implementation of the railway ‘was a big deal to this part of the world’ and remains so today. The connections across the area are an important part of the economy with the international markets and will continue to be of central importance in the future.
The transportation of dangerous goods has increased significantly in the region due to terminal projects, Bachrach said. He said these terminal projects create economic benefits and jobs, with many aspects welcome by communities, however, these communities along the line want to know with the increase in traffic there are also steps being taken to ensure the safety of the region.
“These are reasonable concerns from reasonable people,” he said.
Two main expectations exist and it’s important for them to be fulfilled, the M.P. said.
“It’s important for communities to have the assurance that there is a system of federal regulation in place to reduce the risk of rail accidents to the lowest level possible,” Bachrach said. “Communities want the assurance that should something go very badly that we have the capacity and plans to respond effectively with protecting communities and the environment in those circumstances.”
Campbell said he travelled the northwest region several years ago and he is not surprised that the IEC report said the window is still open for an incident such as Lac Mégantic to occur again. In the 2011 incident, an oil car became dislodged, rolling down a hill above the city. It derailed and caught fire. Forty-seven people were killed and the town was decimated by damage.
“The risk is there and it is higher than it should be … the whole idea of this is to get the risk down,” Campbell said.
He said while the risk will never be at zero, it needs to be brought down as close as can be.
“You always need be worrying that you are doing everything possible. You can never take anything for granted or let your guard down,” Campbell said.
Bachrach said there are still huge gaps in the work that has been to be done to ensure rail safety, citing the 2019 rail disaster near Feild, B.C. when on a cold winter day a grain train was parked on top of a hill for a crew change. Three men got on board when the train started rolling and within a few minutes derailed killing all three.
Bachrach said almost two years later the company did the same thing in the same place resulting in the Transportation Safety Board finding there was an imminent threat of another fatal accident.
“We have to ask some serious questions about a regulatory system that allows the same situation to happen, two years later. Proper corrective actions were not taken obviously buy the regulator or the rail company to prevent that,” Bachrach said.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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