In my last issue I wrote a short piece about the Gogama train derailment on February 14 and the impact it had on train traffic through Pefferlaw. (There was a second derailment near Gogama again on Saturday, March 7). I received enough feedback on that piece to tell me that there is a lot of concern out there around rail safety and the increasing trend to ship more crude oil by rail.
The Canadian Transportation Safety Board says crude oil shipments by rail have gone from 500 cars in 2009 to 160,000 by 2013—with every expectation that this will increase exponentially. The explanation for the reason behind the growth is the explanation that pipelines are at capacity and, until new ones are built, rail is the preferred alternative for crude oil and other flammable liquids.
The CN track through Pefferlaw is a main line out of Toronto and is used to carry goods and passengers to destinations as far west as Vancouver. A spokesperson for CN told me 18 freight trains will pass through town on a daily basis and Pefferlaw residents are well aware that it has a siding that is used to permit north and south bound trains to meet and pass.
CN owns the tracks but the spokesperson “declined” to say what the cars on the trains are carrying. I find that statement quite incredible for a number of reasons.
If the Lac-Mègantic tragedy in 2013 has taught us anything, it is that towns like Pefferlaw are vulnerable and should have an emergency response plan in the event of a rail accident. And accidents in Pefferlaw have happened. I still have the video my father shot in 1965 when two freight trains collided at the Pefferlaw Road crossing killing an engineer and a conductor.
First responders like the Georgina Fire Department do have an emergency response plan and Fire Chief Steve Richardson tells me that crews are trained for just such an eventuality. But I don’t think that goes far enough. Shouldn’t an emergency response plan be shared with residents as well? Shouldn’t I know what to expect? My husband told me I should run and, if he is ahead of me, I should run faster. Sound advice to be sure but where do I run to? How do residents in the Woodland subdivision evacuate if both crossings are affected by a crude oil derailment that has ignited? We would be boxed in by the river with no avenue for escape.
I would like to see the Town organize a TRANCAER community outreach session. It is a Transportation Community Awareness and Emergency Response initiative sponsored by the Railway Association of Canada. It is designed to work with municipalities, first responders and residents in communities along transportation routes to make sure they are informed about the products being moved through their area and are prepared to respond to potential incidents involving dangerous goods. It is time to share what they know with the rest of us.
And please don’t invite anyone who “declines” to answer our questions.
Karen Wolfe, Editor