On Aug.21, almost three years after Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in 2013 that killed 47 people, a CP railway train carrying dangerous material derailed in Toronto causing a diesel leak. CP railway claimed that the train carried only a small quantity of dangerous goods.
But today, railways are increasingly carrying large amount of dangerous materials, and Bob Mok research found that the types of chemicals qualified for cargo transportation reached as high as over one thousand. In light of heightened public scrutiny over railway safety measures following the recent derailment, we re-publish Mok’s article series that demand the government’s transparency over railway information affecting public safety.
On July 6, 2013, an unattended 74-car freight train carrying crude oil rolled down a 1.2% grade hill and derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, resulting in the fire and explosion of multiple tank cars and the death of forty-seven (47) people.
It is the fourth-deadliest rail accident in Canadian history, and the deadliest involving a non-passenger train. It is also the deadliest rail accident since Canada’s confederation in 1867. Only the St-Hilaire passenger train (Quebec) disaster in 1864 had a higher death toll of 99 people.
This Lac-Mégantic train accident once again heightens the awareness of concerned citizens who want to question their own safety in light of the dangers posed by the transport of dangerous and hazardous goods through their cities and towns, sometimes next to their own backyards.
While the railway was once the artery for delivering of raw materials and completed goods around Canada to remote small towns and communities along its tracks, most of these places are connected by highways now. Many of these places have also grown into major urban centres, municipalities, and populous cities.
Today, railway cars are increasingly carrying large quantities of chemicals and hazardous liquids and oils as part of its cargo load. A CN Rail representative once stated that on a national level, about 10 per cent of all products moved by CN each year are dangerous goods, but the number varies by community. Official figures are never published.
加国铁路目前运送的危险物品究竟有多少种？经过研究我发现符合铁路运输标准的在列固体、石油、 液体和气体产品种类超过一千种。因此一旦发生列车脱轨并引发油罐车大爆炸，各种致命化学反应导致的严重后果可想而知。此外，我相信也从未对灾难性事故中各种危险品“混合物”产生的化学反应作过记载。 中国天津最近发生的化学品爆炸就是一个惨痛的教训，在这起事故中灭火不当引发二次爆炸是导致许多消防员牺牲的主要原因之一。
How many kinds of hazardous materials are we transporting on Railways these days? My research showed more than one thousand different types of solids, oils, liquids, and gases are listed and qualified for railway transportation. Just imagine the kinds of lethal chemical reactions that will result when these dangerous and hazardous cargoes are mixed together in a railway derailment and subsequent tanker rupture and fires. I am also sure no one has ever cataloged the chemical reactions for each and every combination of a hazardous materials “cocktail” in the event of disasters. We learned from the recent chemical explosion disaster in Tianjin, China that explosion resulting from improper dousing of fires was one of the root causes for the loss of their many firefighters.
So why are residents anxious to know about these statistics? They want to assess the relative level of danger for themselves based on the percentages of railcars on a train carrying hazardous goods. They also hope to receive assurances from their local governments on their corresponding preparedness for proper emergency planning and responses.
The Government is not giving out public information. Instead, the municipalities registered will receive a quarterly report (not to be made public) from the major railway companies on the nature and volume of dangerous goods that passed through their communities in the previous year, according to a new Transport Canada regulation.
However, railroads are not required to provide Emergency Personnel Officials with even this meager and after-the-fact data if, as stipulated in item#3 subsection (c) of Transport Canada’s Protective Direction No.32 – the relevant Official has not agreed to keep the information confidential to the "maximum extent permitted by law”.
In the next article, we will explore the fallacy on the cloak of secrecy on transport of dangerous and hazardous goods by train.
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