Canadian municipalities call for swift federal action on rail safety

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Federation of Canadian Municipalities chairman Claude Dauphin says swift federal action is necessary given that rail safety has become a ‘priority’ in Canada (ALLEN MCINNIS/CP)

Canada's municipalities are joining the call for an overhaul of rail safety standards after the fatal derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called on Friday for “swift, concrete federal action on rail safety.” The group wants training for municipal emergency workers to respond to rail emergencies. It also wants industry and the federal government to “address the rail safety concerns of municipalities,” and not freeze them out of talks. Finally, the FCM also wants assurances that any new costs can’t be downloaded onto cities and towns.

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The Lac-Mégantic derailment, as well as a partial rail-bridge collapse in Calgary last month, has put rail safety at the top of the agenda, said FCM president Claude Dauphin, mayor of the Montreal-area borough of Lachine.

“Maybe it wasn’t a priority before, but now it’s a clear priority in Canada, and I’m sure it’s a priority for the federal government also,” Mr. Dauphin said in an interview.

The FCM also called for railways to carry more insurance. In the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic derailment, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic (MM&A) Railway’s insurance was found to be insufficient.

Federal law should “guarantee companies have sufficient coverage to cover all costs associated with rail emergencies,” said Pauline Quinlan, mayor of the Quebec town of Bromont and co-chair of the FCM’s National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group.

FCM leaders stopped short of blaming the rail sector, saying the railway plays a key role in the economy.

“We need the good balance,” Mr. Dauphin said. “It has to be safe, but it’s important for the economy as you know. Canada was built with the railway system, and people settled around that. We won’t change that tomorrow morning, but I’m sure we can make some changes and adopt some measures to make sure it’s safe.”

The FCM recommendations came one day after a Senate committee urged the federal government to retire old tanker cars, even if it means slowing the shipment of oil at a time when pipelines are full.

On July 6, a 72-car train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and levelled much of the town’s core. Ottawa has since introduced some new rules, including banning one-man crews.

FCM leaders say they’re set to meet with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt in the near future to discuss their recommendations.

Ms. Raitt welcomed the Senate report and pledged to review it, but has stressed that Canada’s rail system has a strong overall safety record.