Lack of info from rail companies creating safety risks: fire chief

Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow -
Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow
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If a train derailment involving dangerous goods happens in Burnaby, it'll be the city's fire department and other first responders who will arrive to ensure the safety of the public.

But how will they know what goods they're dealing with?

Rail companies refuse, and are not required, to provide information on what's being shipped in advance, says Burnaby fire chief Doug McDonald in a report to council, a situation that "hinders emergency readiness and timely response by first responders" and "compromises public safety."

The report on the transportation of dangerous goods by rail in the city was requested by Coun. Nick Volkow after tragedies including one in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec.

Railways are regulated by the federal government and there is no requirement for the companies to provide information on the goods they transport to other levels of government, the report said.

And while the companies would not provide detailed information to Burnaby,                                     it did provide a list of all regulated goods shipped through the city in 2012. The list  included diesel fuel, crude oil, aviation fuel, alcohols, ethanol and gasoline mixture, batteries, nitrous oxides, refrigerants, fireworks, sodium hydroxide, and many other chemicals.

In addition, the report said, the Chevron refinery in North Burnaby receives 45,500 barrels (7.2 million litres) of crude oil a week by rail tank cars, and one to four cars containing propane or butane per day. Shell receives about 108,000 barrels (17.2 million litres) of finished petroleum products per week at its distribution terminal on Kensington Avenue. The Suncor terminal on Barnet Highway received an average of 18,000 barrels (2.9 million litres) of petroleum products per week in the first seven months of 2013.

Between 1988 and 2012, Transport Canada statistics show there were a total of 133 dangerous goods accidents involving 182 rail cars in the Greater Vancouver area, the report said. Of those, two happened in Burnaby and were minor, one involving a drum of flammable liquid in 1996 and the other a drum of sodium nitrate in 1993.

The report noted that Canadian National is planning to eliminate onsite staff at three local rail bridges, including the one at Second Narrows, and replace them with a remote control system at a central location.

"The elimination of the on-site staff operations is a safety and environmental concern that needs to be re-evaluated by CN particularly in light of possible increase of oil tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet."

Council approved recommendations that the city ask the federal government to include local municipalities in future rail safety reviews and emergency planning, and to bring in legislation to prevent emergency response costs being transferred to cities.

The city will also ask Transport Canada to work with the railway companies to provide regular reports to municipalities on rail shipments of dangerous goods.

Volkow said the report confirms what he's heard about the difficulty in getting information from the railway companies.

"Whenever cities try to gain information we're basically thanked very politely for coming and shown the door and away you go," Volkow said.

"We need to remind the railways we're in the 21st century and no longer operating with John A. Macdonald as prime minister."

Mayor Derek Corrigan agreed and noted the country is a far different place than when the laws that regulate the railways were created.

"These were not urban centers when the rules were put in place," Corrigan said.

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