Vancouver mayor looks to enhance rail safety in the wake of Lac-Mégantic

VANCOUVER — The Canadian Press

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is seen outside City Hall in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday April 2, 2012, after announcing 12 new street food vendors will be eligible to begin doing business on May 1. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Vancouver’s mayor is calling on city staff to review rail-safety protocols and make recommendations to ensure the city never experiences a catastrophe like the oil-train explosion that devastated Lac-Mégantic, Que., earlier this month.

Mayor Gregor Robertson’s motion will ask city staff to report back to council as soon as possible, and authorizes the mayor to write to “the people of Lac-Mégantic” to express condolences on behalf of city council. The motion was scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, but has been delayed until Wednesday.

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“I’m concerned, after seeing the devastation in Lac-Mégantic, that we are very clear on the risks and how they’re managed with all movement of hazardous materials by rail into Vancouver,” Mr. Robertson told reporters at city hall on Tuesday.

“We want to be sure we have best practices in place … and that nothing like the Lac-Mégantic nightmare could happen here.”

Mr. Robertson did not single out any hazardous materials that he was particularly concerned about. And he did not specify any measures he is actively seeking.

He said he wanted staff to do a risk assessment on all dangerous goods that are transported to the port.

When asked about oil, Mr. Robertson said he wasn’t aware of it moving by rail through Vancouver in any large quantities, but noted it could travel by rail to Burnaby and Port Moody, and the region should be working together to review safety regulations.

Last year, Mr. Robertson vigorously opposed a proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline to Burnaby, though he primarily focused on the danger presented by increased tanker traffic through the Burrard Inlet.

He said on Tuesday that the Lac-Mégantic disaster hasn’t changed his views on the relative safety of pipelines.

“There are serious risks moving oil by pipeline and by train,” Mr. Robertson said. “We have to have eyes wide open to the risks associated with all of that movement, and make sure that safety measures are in place. And ask the hard questions about what the alternatives are.”

The federal government also addressed rail safety on Tuesday, with Transport Canada issuing six new directives. They included a requirement that all trains carrying hazardous goods be operated by at least two people, and that no trains loaded with dangerous goods can be left unattended on main tracks.

Meanwhile, port officials in Vancouver, Wash., about 450 kilometres south of the Canadian border, voted on Tuesday to approve a new oil rail-to-ship terminal that could eventually handle 360,000 barrels per day of oil from North Dakota.

The current plan would not see the oil transported through Canada. The terminal still needs to be reviewed by state regulators before construction can begin.

With a report from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa