Ottawa defends rail safety

by The Canadian Press (CPSTF)

GOGAMA, Ontario—The federal government defended its efforts to boost rail safety Monday in the wake of a fiery derailment in northern Ontario that has stoked concerns over the transportation of crude oil by train.

Last Saturday’s derailment of a CN train near Gogama was the second such incident near the community about 80 kilometres south of Timmins in less than a month, and the local member of provincial parliament said it left residents on edge.

“For the people of Gogama, it was a very close one,” said NDP MPP France Gelinas, who represents the Nickel Belt area.

“They all said, ‘What if it had been two kilometres this way, we wouldn’t be there (anymore),”’ she said.

“This is a what-if that will be hard for a lot of people to forget and we need to have substantive changes so that people in Gogama and throughout the northeast can feel safe again.”

Federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt said the government has already made several changes to improve rail safety in the two years since the deadly derailment in Lac-Megantic, Que., including upgrading standards for the tanker cars involved in that incident.

The government is also working to replace the Class 111 cars in the next few years, Raitt said during Question Period.

“We are working with the United States on what a new system will be in terms of a new tank car standard,” she said.

CN has said the trains involved in both Saturday’s and last month’s derailments met the upgraded standards for Class 111 tanker cars.

In its preliminary observations on the February spill, the Transportation Safety Board said the cars still “performed similarly” to those involved in the Lac-Megantic wreck, which predated the changes.

The agency said last month’s incident demonstrated “the inadequacy” of the new standards and it urged Transport Canada to quickly beef up protection standards.

The latest derailment also had First Nations and environmentalists expressing alarm over possible contamination.

CN Rail said ongoing air and water testing had so far found no issues, though two cars and some crude had entered the Mattagami River System. It said booms have been installed downstream of the site.

Crews extinguished the last of the fires from the derailment on Monday, and the two cars that were in the river were removed, the railway said.

They are now working to complete a temporary bypass around the derailment site and hope to have the line back in service late Tuesday afternoon.

Via Rail said train service between Toronto and Winnipeg has been suspended until further notice due to the derailment.

-by Paola Loriggio in Toronto