The federal government wants to make sure municipalities know more about the dangerous goods moving through their territory by rail, the Transport Minister says.
Lisa Raitt said she has been working with railways and with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to determine what kind of information they need to help municipal first responders prepare for an accident. Cities across Canada have been requesting details about which dangerous goods are being hauled through their communities since the July 6 derailment of a train hauling crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Que., which caused a series of explosions and killed 47 people.
During an appearance at the federal transportation committee in Ottawa, Ms. Raitt said she expects to provide more information about the outcome of talks between municipalities and the rail industry "in the coming days." She also asked members of the committee to study safety practices related to all modes of transportation for dangerous goods and make recommendations.
The transportation of oil by rail has increased dramatically in North America during recent years, raising questions about whether Canada's transportation system has adapted to the rapid pace of industry changes. Ms. Raitt said she is requesting the committee review in part because of this change.
"What we can draw from Lac-Mégantic, and what we can draw from the increased shipments by rail of crude oil is the fact that we need to take account of these changes and we need to make sure we do the right thing going forward," she told members of the transportation committee. "That's why I'm asking your committee to do the review of the transportation of dangerous goods."
Ms. Raitt said she hopes the committee meets with industry and government officials and asked for an interim report on transportation safety by next summer.
"We recognize and we know that the growth and the volume of dangerous goods moving by rail across the country shows that it's imperative we strengthen the safety culture in Canada's rail transportation system," she said.
Several NDP and Liberal members of the committee questioned how Transport Canada can make improvements when its budget for rail safety has been reduced in recent years, according to departmental reports.
Ms. Raitt said about 35 inspectors look at the transportation of dangerous goods in Canada and another approximately 100 are focused on railway safety. "Perhaps through the discussion at the committee there'll be a discussion with respect to the need for inspectors versus having enforcement in another way, shape or form," she said.
The government has also said that it will require rail companies to carry more insurance to make sure they are capable of bearing the cost of a major accident like the one in Lac-Mégantic. Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, the railway whose train crashed in the small Quebec town, had just $25-million in third-party liability insurance – a fraction of the expected clean-up costs.
Infrastructure Minister Denis Lebel said Monday that the Quebec government has submitted a proposal for additional funding to help with clean-up and rebuilding efforts in Lac-Mégantic. He said Ottawa is currently evaluating the proposal.
After the crash in Lac-Mégantic, a number of municipalities expressed concern that their emergency service workers would have difficulty dealing with a rail accident if they are not aware of the kinds of goods moving through their communities.
"I anticipate and I fully expect [the railway industry and the FCM] will have an agreement with respect to what makes sense in terms of information-sharing," between the railways and municipalities, Ms. Raitt said. "I hope that we'll be able to talk about that in coming days."
Municipal officials in Lac-Mégantic have indicated that trains carrying "dry goods" could begin moving through the small Quebec town once again in the near future. (The company whose train derailed promised to stop hauling crude oil after the accident).