Increase in hazardous rail cargo raising concerns on both sides of the border

Apr 11, 2014

Some municipal politicians in Toronto are urging the Canadian government to lift the secrecy surrounding hazardous cargo hauled by trains. It has become a sensitive issue in both Canada and the U.S. after a series of train accidents in the past year.

Two Toronto city councillors are spearheading the call. They say they just want basic information like what kind and how much hazardous waste is being transported. And they want Ottawa to stop the owners of the freight trains from keeping secret the frequency and amount of potentially dangerous materials moving through densely populated areas.

Credit File photo

They say they want the information for all residents, not just those living close to railway lines.

Recently the Canadian transport minister Lisa Raitt, defended the rail companies, saying it's all about balancing safety and security with the need to know and the ability to respond. She said the goods should not be listed on a publicly accessible database.

One councillor, Josh Matlow, says he is not asking for a schedule of when and where hazardous materials are going through municipalities. But he says in the past five years, there has been a significant increase in the number of trains hauling crude oil, from 500 carloads in 2009 to 140,000 last year.

In New York, two recent derailments of trains carrying crude oil prompted governor Andrew Cuomo to call on Washington to beef up rail safety.

Most politicians grappling with the issue of dangerous goods also have last summer’s disaster in Quebec imprinted on their minds. That’s when a train hauling light crude derailed in the town of Lac Megantic. The explosion and fire that followed incinerated the downtown and killed 47 people.