Review rail safety after derailments

The Ottawa Citizen April 2, 2010
The derailment of another CN freight train in Pickering on March 30 is but another incident in the long list of derailments, crossing accidents, and collisions that have plagued Canada's two major railroads dating back to 1999, when Transport Canada largely gave up its regulatory oversight role.

In a plea to improve safety in the rail industry, William Brehl, president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference's Maintenance of Way Employees Division, wrote, "Can't we aim higher? Can't we try to be safer? Maybe as safe as railroads in Europe? Can't our goal be one derailment a week or a month, instead of one per day in Canada?"

This sad state of affairs defies all logic and all business sense, and flies in the face of economic prosperity initiatives and objectives.

Considering the despicable and sad state of railway safety in this country, characterized by flawed public policy and federal government apathy, and an industry motivated solely by profit, contemptuous for the safety of their workers and the public, it is only a matter of time before this country experiences a rail disaster not unlike that awful tragedy in Mississauga, Ont., on Nov. 10, 1979 when a 106-car Canadian Pacific freight train derailed. As the result of a subsequent explosion, when one of the tank cars carrying propane exploded, resulting in a raging fire, and because other tank cars were carrying chlorine, the decision was made to evacuate the area in one of the largest peace time evacuations in history. about 220,000 residents were relocated.

That incident caused major property damage, environmental damage, economic losses, an unprecedented drain on emergency services (police, fire, medical), and community dislocations. A board of inquiry was appointed, under Ontario Appeal Court Justice Samuel Grange, to investigate the derailment. The Grange Report on the Mississauga Railway Accident Inquiry was released on Jan. 19, 1981.

In response to a series of serious derailments, then-Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon in December 2006, set up an advisory committee to review the Railway Safety Act. On March 7, 2008, the report on railway safety was tabled in the House of Commons. It received almost no media attention even though it came after two derailments in southern Ontario. That report presented more than 50 recommendations to improve railway safety in this country. To date, but one of these recommendations has been implemented by this government. What does this say about a commitment to safety? Go figure.

Another Mississauga. The only question is where and when will this disaster happen?

Emile Therien,   Ottawa

(Emile Therien is the former President of the Canada Safety Council. He is currently President of PIP-Progress Intelligently Planned, which promotes its services to the non-profit sector sector and small companies.
Mr. Therien continues to be a widely respected and much sought-after spokesperson on public health and safety issues/concerns