More oil trains means more risk in midtown
Founder of Toronto group says it’s only a matter of time before something happens
On Nov. 11 a train travelling through the city of Toronto derailed in the east end.
Five freight cars left the tracks near Kennedy Road and Eglinton Avenue East, three of which were reportedly carrying industrial chemicals.
Toronto Fire Services arrived on the scene and immediately attempted to investigate whether or not any harmful chemicals had spilled.
Nobody was hurt and no chemicals were spilled. But the incident serves as the latest reminder that every day in Toronto trains carrying volatile chemicals pass straight through the middle of town. This includes oil trains, which have increased in frequency.
“It’s only a matter of time before something happens,” said Helen Vassilakos, one of the co-founders of the Toronto group Safe Rail Communities. “The government is sort of tinkering with a system that needs a complete overhaul.”
Last month, Alberta premier Rachel Notley announced that her government will purchase or lease thousands of oil trains to transport crude from her province to refineries and export terminals across North America.
She’s not alone. With the inability to get necessary approvals for the construction of new oil pipelines, such as Trans Mountain and Energy East, the use of trains to transport oil and associated volatile chemicals has skyrocketed.
Critics suggest more derailments, more spills and potentially more devastation are not just possible, but inevitable.
And, of course, fears have only escalated since the 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., when 47 people lost their lives after a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil from Alberta exploded.
Hundreds of cars loaded with oil pass through the middle of Toronto on the same line as LacMégantic and right alongside tens of thousands of residents.
“I’ve been advocating for several years along with midtown residents to see the government do meaningful action on rail safety,” said local councillor Josh Matlow. “We have some of the most dangerous materials, including crude oil, and if there ever was a derailment that caused an explosion, that could affect a half a mile on either side of the tracks.”
Two years ago, 129,000 barrels of oil were transported by rail in Canada every day. Now, that number is closing in on 300,000, representing a more than 150 per cent increase and becoming a de facto backdoor alternative to pipelines without significant public input.
Moving rail by oil is considerably less safe and more expensive than traditional pipelines. And crude from the Alberta oilsands is that much worse as it has to be mixed with volatile chemicals before transportation.
In addition to creating a serious safety risk, moving more oil by train or pipeline facilitates further