Derailments a worrying scenario

Last week, sitting idly in the train yard in Fort Frances, was a train made up entirely of tanker cars.
It was only one of the 29 trains that pass through our community (and district) every day of the year.
If you watch the trains from one of the level crossings in the district, you’ll see a mixture of tanker cars, flat cars carrying lumber, as well as cars carrying grain from the west and containers that have arrived at Prince Rupert, B.C. with consumer goods from Asia.
You also will see unit trains carrying crude oil.
CN has made the Fort Frances-Rainer crossing one of the busiest train entry points into the U.S., delivering products into the heart of the country.
This past week, the Port Authority in Prince Rupert announced it was expanding to handle an additional 500,000 containers from Asia—an increase of almost 60 percent.
One can expect we will see a similar increase of containers passing through Fort Frances aboard trains.
It amazes me that as Canadians, we would be much more comfortable seeing trains carrying crude across Canada to refineries rather than pipelines.
In the past three weeks, we’ve learned of two train derailments in Northern Ontario near Gogoma, resulting in major fires. Previously, we witnessed on television the huge fires in Lac-Mégantic, Que., Galena, Ill., and Mount Carbon, W.Va.
Then just last Tuesday (March 11), a train-carrying refinery cracking stock derailed about 50 km northeast of Brandon.
In the past half-decade, North America has seen tanker rail traffic grow from shipping 21,000 barrels a day to 1.04 million by the end of 2014.
After the Lac-Mégantic disaster in Quebec that claimed 47 lives, the Canadian and U.S. governments mandated new tank cars, called CPC-1232s, to carry crude. But following the fires and rupture of tankers in Ontario and Galena, it’s become clear even those new cars can rupture.
It is a worrying scenario for all communities that have railways running through their centres. We have seen derailments near Nickel Lake and west of Fort Frances near the Crozier rail crossing.
Fortunately, in both those cases, the contents of the rail cars were not hazardous.
Rail companies and oil producers expect a growth in transporting crude oil to refineries through 2016. Trains have become the moving pipelines. And even though there has been a decline in the derailments in the U.S. since 2009, the number of train incidents involving violent ruptures has almost doubled.
The U.S. government is predicting that fuel trains could derail up to 10 times a year over the next two decades. It’s a troubling scenario for communities that have railways running through their centres.
Fort Frances and Rainy River may be more fortunate than Emo, Barwick, or Stratton because the speed of trains must be reduced to cross borders. The railways also are compelled by law to notify emergency measures and fire departments of hazardous materials travelling through communities.
In this area, the reports are provided quarterly—and mostly after the fact.
It has permitted for municipal emergency planning in case of a major derailment. In addition, the fire department almost instantly can grab information about materials on rail cars.
The Canadian government announced new tougher rules for oil tanker car standards last week.
The new CPC-1232 cars that have just been introduced will have to be phased out by 2025.

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