Ottawa is requiring railway companies to give more information to municipalities about the hazardous goods being moved through their territory by rail.
Under the new rules, railways will have to provide yearly aggregate information about the nature and volume of dangerous goods that are moved through their territory and tell them about any significant changes. Cities have been asking for more information about hazardous materials that are hauled by rail since the July 6 derailment of a train hauling crude oil in Lac-Mégantic, Que., which killed 47 people.
The information will be historical rather than forward looking and municipalities will have no new powers to refuse trains carrying goods from entering their land. But the Federation of Canadian Municipalities says the change should help first responders identify trends and better prepare for the possibility of an accident.
There has been a dramatic increase in the quantity of crude oil being moved by rail in recent years, prompting questions about whether Canada's rail safety regulations have kept up with the pace of industry change.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said Wednesday that the new rules are meant to help municipalities update their emergency response plans. "Local governments and first responders on the front line are keeping our communities safe. We want to make sure that these measures will support their work and their efforts, help them with risk assessments, emergency response planning and first responder training," she said.
Larger railways such as Canadian National and Canadian Pacific will have to break the information down for each quarter, while smaller railways will only be required to provide aggregate information for the year.
The new rules are contained in a protective direction that will remain in effect for three years or until it is cancelled by the government. In the meantime, Transport Canada is expected to develop permanent regulations to address the issue.
Brad Woodside, a spokesman for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and mayor of Fredericton, said municipalities are pleased with the change and would use the information to make sure they are prepared for accidents in the future.
"Our first responders, whether they're responding to a house fire or a train derailment, have to have the proper equipment to be able to deal with it whatever [the emergency] happens to be," he said.
Olivia Chow, transport critic for the NDP, called the directive a "good first step." But she said first responders should also know more about companies' safety protocols, which describe how they operate but are shared only with Transport Canada.
"Even if it's not public to ordinary Canadians, at least it should be made public to the first responders, whether they're fire, ambulance and police, because they're the first one on the scene. Knowing … what kind of dangerous cargo [is being moved] is good, but also knowing how to deal with these dangerous cargo is also critically important," she said.
Ms. Raitt said municipal officials across Canada have told her they want to have rail moving through their communities and are aware that will include dangerous cargo. "These are goods that are needed in our country, but we need to do it as safe as possible and we want to enhance our safety in any way we can," she said.
Officials from Canadian National and Canadian Pacific both said they welcomed the new directive, and a spokesman for CN said the quarterly breakdown would help municipalities identify trends in seasonal changes in flows of dangerous goods to schedule their emergency response training accordingly.