Railroads bowing to pressure to tell municipalities what dangerous stuff they’re carrying

Penhold Fire Chief says more information would be welcomed.

Municipalities may soon know more about the dangerous goods travelling by rail through their communities.

Transport Canada announced this year a Protective Direction, which requires railways to share more information about the dangerous loads they are hauling.

The direction includes a new requirement for railways to prepare information for the public on the types of dangerous goods crossing communities. It will also provide clarity on how municipality can share the information for their emergency plans.

Rail safety came under intense scrutiny after the horrific Lac-Mégantic rail disaster in July 2013 that claimed 47 lives when a freight train hauling crude oil rolled down a hill and derailed in the middle of town.

On Feb. 2, 2001, Red Deer had its own rail scare when a CP Rail freight train derailed as it was getting ready to leave the Red Deer rail yards. Five cars carrying anhydrous ammonia derailed.

More than 1,200 people were evacuated from north Red Deer. One man died as a result of the incident.

Penhold Fire Chief Jim Pendergast said more information would be welcomed. Rail companies began releasing more information about their cargoes a couple of years ago but it was only a listing of what had passed through communities months before.

Pendergast said he would get quarterly reports on what had gone through Penhold eight to 12 months later.

“That’s not a real help,” he said, adding specific information was also in short supply.

Fire departments want to see a system developed where they have 24-hour access to trains’ manifests so firefighters know what they are facing and even how many crew members were on board.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been lobbying the federal government for years to tighten up rail safety policies to improve municipalities’ ability to plan and respond to rail accidents. The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties and Alberta Urban Municipalities Association have supported the initiative.

Transport Canada is holding a preliminary consultation on proposed changes. Municipalities have until Oct. 4 to make submissions. Additional feedback will be received before draft regulatory amendments are put together.