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A CN freight train carrying dangerous goods derailed in central Saskatchewan, near the towns of Wadena and Clair, on Tuesday, October 7, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards

Liam Richards/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The folks who run Canada's railways have made it clear that the less Ottawa meddles in their operations, the better it will be for them, their customers and the public.

If they had their druthers, safety and other issues such as how much grain they should be carrying, would be left in their hands. They have taken to their pulpits to highlight the risks of heavy-handed interference.

Canadian Pacific Railway's chief operating officer, Keith Creel, carried that message to a Toronto business audience on Tuesday, the same day 26 cars of a freight train operated by the Canadian National Railway derailed in rural Saskatchewan. Two cars spilled petroleum distillates, which caught fire and prompted an evacuation of nearby residents.

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"Our model is a virtuous cycle, where returns support private-sector investment in a long-term, sustainable manner," Mr. Creel said. "The alternative, which is not very appealing, is a vicious cycle based on market interference, loss of investment, ultimately poor infrastructure, poor service and government bailouts."

It's a refrain we have been hearing since not long after the smoke cleared from the Lac-Mégantic disaster, in which 47 people died. It sent the federal government down the road toward stricter oversight of an industry that transports ever-larger amounts of crude oil and other dangerous cargoes across North America.

Just this week, a CBC investigation found that an alarming number of freight engineers have fallen asleep at their controls because of fatigue, partly stemming from irregular work schedules and reduced staffing, at a time when carriers are seeking to increase speeds to improve margins.

The major railways do transport millions of carloads of all manner of materials and goods annually without serious safety issues.

But a successful track record doesn't negate the need for strict oversight and sensible rules to protect the public. In the Saskatchewan case, for example, authorities were equipped with vital information about the chemical contents of the various cars, enabling them to act quickly. That's just common sense.

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