K-W pushes for action on trains

High-profile train derailments have attracted local attention. (Photo by Heather Davidson)
High-profile train derailments have attracted local attention. (Photo by Heather Davidson)

Railway companies passing through the Region of Waterloo may soon have to declare the contents of their cargo to the local fire chief after city councilors have voted unanimously on a motion aimed at improving railway safety in Canadian municipalities.

Councilor Karen Scian brought the motion forward as part of a working group project of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a research and lobby group that makes recommendations on government policy.

“I brought it forward as one municipality in a group of municipalities,” shared Scian. “The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is basically a coalition of all municipalities across Canada …This is something that they’ve been working on and in light of the rail disaster in Québec this summer and the derailment in Calgary and our derailment in Waterloo, I brought forward to our council to support that initiative.”

Legal regulations around railway transportation currently do not require railway companies to disclose the content of their cargo to the municipalities that they are traveling through.

“I think it’s very important for our emergency services department, our fire fighters, our police officers, our medics, to know exactly what they are dealing with and have easy access and consistent access to that information. And before now that was not the case.”

Before the Waterloo motion was advanced, Councilor Berry Vrbanovic for the City of Kitchener put forward a similar motion on the issue of railway safety.

“The motion was basically endorsing the work of FCM’s railway safety working group, which is ongoing in nature, as well as a call to the railways operating through Waterloo Region to share their information with emergency service responders around the goods coming through the community so that they’re as best prepared as possible,” he said.

Vrbanovic explained that there is a relatively high volume of rail traffic that goes through the Region on a daily basis.

“There’s typically one large freight train a day that goes through and then offloads a number of cars into the north Kitchener yard. And then some of those vehicles work their way up to Woolwich,” he said.

The main priorities for FCM include equipping municipal first responders for rail emergencies by informing the municipality in advance of potential dangerous goods that are being carried through the municipality. They ask that federal and industry policies and regulations address rail safety concerns of municipalities.

“You could have fire fighters arriving on a scene to fight a fire and not know what chemicals are involved,” said Scian. “Legally they have labelling systems on the train, but it emergency situations I think that that’s not sufficient.”

While both Waterloo and Kitchener city Councils have unanimously passed the motion on rail safety, it is yet to be determined whether this issue will gain momentum at a federal level.

“This is really, from FCM’s perspective and from the perspective of the Railway Working Group at FDM, this is really just the beginning of the work,” said Vrbanovic.

“There’s obviously a number of issues that over the coming months are going to be discussed around railway safety, around sharing of information, around ensuring … that there’s protections to ensure municipalities aren’t left with the financial liability of the clean-up.”

“And so those are all the kinds of discussions that over the next coming months FCM will be having to see what changes either need to happen either through legislation or through regulation and through the work of the transportation safety board,” Vrbanovic concluded.

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