Lo­cal res­i­dents raise the alarm on trains car­ry­ing oil through their neigh­bour­hood

North Toronto Post - - Contents - 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 Lac-Mé­gan­tic 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

ex­pan­sion of the Al­berta oil­sands, mak­ing it that much more dif­fi­cult for Canada to meet its com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing emis­sions un­der the Paris Agree­ment on cli­mate change.

What would you do if a train car­ry­ing oil, or worse, de­railed down the street from your condo at Spad­ina Road and Dupont Street?

In 2016, it hap­pened. There was a de­rail­ment on Aug. 21 of that year of a CP Rail train near the in­ter­sec­tion of Dupont and How­land Av­enue.

Although the in­ci­dent was mi­nor, it did re­veal what not to do. Lo­cal res­i­dents came out of their homes en masse to in­ves­ti­gate what hap­pened and find out in­for­ma­tion.

“[Af­ter the 2016 de­rail­ment,] we were in­un­dated with calls and emails. Peo­ple ac­tu­ally ran out of their homes,” Vas­si­lakos ex­plained. “Peo­ple did not know what do, and the city hadn’t been around to tell them. We spoke to the city, and they didn’t even have a pro­to­col or re­source for res­i­dents.”

Safe Rail Com­mu­ni­ties iden­ti­fied the gap, got a grant and spent a year and a half work­ing on a rail safety tool kit for res­i­dents.

The safety kit con­tains sug­ges­tions re­lated to emer­gency pre­pared­ness and get­ting ready to “shel­ter in place” at home.

Ac­cord­ing to the group Rail Safety First, re­lo­ca­tion of the mid­town Toronto CP Rail line was rec­om­mended by the Grange Royal Com­mis­sion Re­port on the Novem­ber 1979 de­rail­ment and ex­plo­sion of a CP freight train in Mississauga. Other safety mea­sures in­clude de­creas­ing speeds through ur­ban ar­eas and a con­ver­sion to safer rail cars. Mat­low agrees. “I am call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to im­me­di­ately see all of the danger­ous Dot-111 cars [the type in­volved in the LacMé­gan­tic tragedy] pulled from use and en­sure, when crude oil is moved, that they are not on cars al­ready known to be in­cred­i­bly danger­ous,” he said.

It is un­likely re­lo­ca­tion will hap­pen, ac­cord­ing to Vas­si­lakos, who is also con­cerned with de­vel­op­ment growth along Dupont.

In 2017, there was some con­tro­versy when a lo­cal de­vel­oper wanted to build a mixed-use de­vel­op­ment right be­side the rail line. The City re­fused the ap­pli­ca­tion based in part on safety con­cerns. It was ap­pealed to the On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal Board, and a de­ci­sion is still pend­ing

But there are plenty more such ap­pli­ca­tions as Dupont has be­come one of the fastest grow­ing stretches of road in the city for res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

“Of course we are con­cerned with more and more de­vel­op­ment hap­pen­ing around rail lines,” said Vas­si­lakos. “It’s the city’s de­ci­sion. The Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties guide­line is 30 me­tres. But the city can just say no. It’s up to the city to de­cide.”

He­len Vas­si­lakos along the mid­town Toronto rail cor­ri­dor

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