More oil trains means more risk in mid­town

Founder of Toronto group says it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore some­thing hap­pens

Bayview Post - - CURRENTS | THE BIG READ - by Ron John­son

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

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