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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Canada's Rail Mess

Anyone who only started following Canadian railway developments in the last fortnight would be forgiven for thinking that the country's railways were facing the apocalypse. In the last two weeks, three major incidents have made headlines and portrayed rail transportation in a bad light.

Two weeks ago, the city of Calgary narrowly missed a major environmental disaster when tanker cars derailed on a bridge damaged by the recent flooding. Thanks to the slow speed of the train at the time, there was no serious environmental damage or injuries.

This past weekend, a runaway freight train derailed and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. To date, 13 people are confirmed to have died and at least 40 are still missing. This incident has provoked widespread fear-mongering in the media, who are misrepresenting the transportation of crude oil by rail. CBC has claimed that oil trains regularly travel through Toronto, which is correct, but they used the Union Station Rail Corridor as a backdrop to the story. This line has one freight train per day, which operates at slow speed. The story also featured the tanker sidings at Clarkson, yet did not mention the massive Petro-Canada refinery adjacent to the tracks (which would pose a much larger threat). Indeed, the very train involved in the derailment did pass through the GTA, but with different locomotives and a different crew (CP rather than Montreal, Maine & Atlantic). While safety standards should be constantly reviewed, it is unfair to make rail appear more dangerous than it is. Imagine the damage if a buried pipeline had exploded in the middle of a town - it would have been very similar.

Just last night, Toronto received its highest-ever amount of rain in one day: 126mm (beating Hurricane Hazel's record by 5mm). Among the flooding incidents, a Richmond-Hill GO Train was stuck near Pottery Road with water as high as the coach mezzanine level. It took over six hours for rescue crews to remove the passengers using boats.

Bad things often happen in bunches, but Canada's railway have taken more than their fair share of hits recently.

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