Tanker cars carrying any number of liquids are a common site on the country’s rail lines. (Harvey Henkelmann photo)

Author warns of dangerous goods being carried by rail

Bruce Campbell wrote book on Lac-Mégantic disaster

Local governments and people along CN’s line in northwestern B.C. need to be more aware of what’s contained in railcars running through their communities daily, says the author of a book on the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic, Quebec disaster in which a string of oil-carrying cars crashed and exploded, killing 47 people.

There needs to be close and continued questioning of CN Rail and its federal regulators, said Bruce Campbell who is on a speaking tour in the region this week.

Campbell, whose tour is being sponsored by regional advocacy group Friends of Wild Salmon, a coalition of northwestern residents, First Nations, anglers and others concerned about the health of wild salmon and community groups, said nothing should be taken for granted.

“What we’ve seen is the erosion of safety precautions and the advent of deregulation,” said Campbell, outlining the research that went into his newly-published The Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster: Public Betrayal, Justice Denied.

He said extensive lobbying on the part of companies so that they could become more self-regulating, government cutbacks and a push going back to the Stephen Harper years in power to make Canada a global energy superpower put increasingly more dangerous goods on the country’s rails.

“Don’t take the word of the companies and regulators. Do your research. Beat the drum. The more you know, the better it will be,” he said.

Of specific significance, in the years leading up to the Lac-Mégantic disaster, were single-hull oil-carrying railcars commonly called ‘pop cans on wheels’ and the success of companies in convincing the federal government to let them reduce train crews to just one person, Campbell continued.

“It was a recipe for a disaster. A matter of Transport Canada’s wilful blindness,” he said.

It took just 10 days for the federal government to ban the practice of having just one person on a train following the Lac Megantic explosion and single-hull cars are being phased out, Campbell continued.

Although oil is not a factor in what CN transports through the northwest, Calgary-based AltaGas is to finish this year a propane export terminal on Ridley Island at Prince Rupert, resulting in daily shipments of 50-60 cars a day.

That’s in partnership with a company called Vopak and that company itself wants to build its own terminal to handle exports of diesel, gasoline, methanol and other products which could mean an additional 240 railcars a day on CN’s line.

As well, a Vancouver-based company called Pacific Traverse Energy is in the early stages of developing a proposal to export propane from a Kitimat terminal. That would put between 30 and 60 railcars a day on CN’s tracks.

Campbell said residents and governments along the CN line should be worried about volatility as well as toxicity of liquids and material CN carries.

“The issue here is to make rail transportation safer,” he said.

Campbell is spoke in Burns Lake Jan. 21 in Houston Jan. 22 and will speak in Smithers Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at The Old Church, in Terrace Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. at Knox United Church, in Kitimat on Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. at the Riverlodge Activity Room and in Prince Rupert Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Orca Room below Chances Casino.

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