Citizen Action Essential to Ensure Rail Safety
TML Weekly: First
of all, our best wishes to the people of Lac-Mégantic who
are fighting so bravely to rebuild their lives, which cannot be done
without improved rail safety. What was organized in the city for the
seventh anniversary of the tragedy?
There were three press conferences. Of course, we held our own. The
Alliance ferroviaire de l'Estrie et Montérégie,
which includes the mayors of Mégantic, Sherbrooke, Bromont,
Cowansville and Farnham, also held one, as did the city of
Mégantic, which inaugurated the Espace mémoire,
a structure dedicated to the 47 victims. It is located where
the tragedy took place, on the very foundations of Musicafé.
At noon, after the inauguration of the Espace mémoire, bells
were rung 47 times in memory of the 47 victims of the tragedy.
are the challenges you are facing at this time in ensuring rail safety?
RB: We took
another tour of the track and found new problems with the rails. A
second formal notice was sent to Transport Canada to come and
re-inspect the rails at the entrance and exit of
Lac-Mégantic. On May 7, 2019, Transport Canada sent a report
to Central Maine and Quebec Railway Canada (CMQR) noting 253 defective
rails between Farnham and Lac-Mégantic. The company was to
repair this. In August, it was discovered that a location specified in
the report where the rails were defective had still not been repaired.
We also produced a video showing the condition of the rails at that
This was reported to Transport Canada and the
media and two weeks later a train partially derailed at the same
location. The wheels just left the track. After that, a formal notice
was sent to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau and a ministerial order
was issued to force the company to make repairs. That was last year.
This year, we are doing the same thing. We are sending a formal notice
to Garneau, a second one, to tell him that you have not repaired
everything. There's still some left. There's a lot left. We sent him
the formal notice yesterday. He now has 10 days to do a new inspection
that goes beyond the standard ultrasonic inspection. Ultrasound is a
method that is not completely effective when the rails are too worn
because the metal no longer conducts the waves properly.
According to an
expert report on the seven major derailments of oil-carrying trains in
Canada that have occurred since the Mégantic
derailment, which was presented in a CBC report on June 15, the
condition of the rails is responsible for the derailments. This is
because the railway safety regulations on which the maintenance
standards are based date back to 2012, that is, before the massive
transportation of oil on the rails. The regulations are written based
on the old practice of regular freight trains and have not been
adjusted to the new reality of massive oil transportation. So the rails
wear out faster with characteristic breakages due to the overweight
trains. So the Transportation Safety Board of Canada made that
observation and recommended that the railway safety regulations be
reviewed because they no longer correspond to reality. These
regulations govern the companies and define maintenance standards.
Journalists have proven that these seven major derailments since
Mégantic are due to the fact that maintenance protocols are
not up to date and that the trains are heavier and longer. The CMQR
boasted that the weight of its trains passing through
Mégantic had increased by 56 per cent.
your press conference, you said that the hazardous materials currently
in circulation are even more dangerous than those that exploded during
the tragedy. Can you tell us more about that?
the BAPE [Office of Public Hearings on the Environment] meetings in
Mégantic last year, the experts who were conducting a risk
study told us that the two most dangerous materials circulating on the
rails are propane gas and sulphuric acid. There is nothing worse than
that. If ever there is a derailment followed by an explosion of these
materials, the sulphuric acid will spray into the atmosphere as a
vapour and the winds will push this up to 20 or 30 km. This is much
more dangerous than the shale oil burning on site. It's ten times worse
as an impact.
We see convoys of 30 tanks, where 10 to 12 cars
contain propane gas and seven to eight cars contain sulphuric acid,
transported by DOT-111 cars. Since the explosion at
Lac-Mégantic, these cars can no longer transport oil, but
they are now used to transport a product that is ten times more
dangerous! We see this type of convoy three to four times a week and it
runs on defective rails and culverts.
It should also be
added that the trains are still parked at the top of the hill. Since
there is no longer a rail yard in
downtown Mégantic, the company is shunting in
Nantes, at the same place where the death train was parked on July 6,
2013. It parks cars from the industrial park on the service track and
when the train arrives from the United States with the dangerous
material, they stop parallel to them on the main track, next to the
cars to be loaded. They apply only air brakes on the slope, no hand
brakes. And there they detach the four locomotives that will pick up
the cars on the other track, leaving the whole train alone, on simple
air brakes on the grade, from 45 minutes to one hour. That's how long
it took, when the firemen left Nantes, for the train to go down the
slope in 2013. These manoeuvres are carried out two to three times a
week in Mégantic. We are in the same scenario. Nothing has
really changed, except that the materials are 10 times more dangerous.
I have reported this twice to the City of Mégantic and
Transport Canada. We also see it in the video.
All this is tolerated by Transport Canada.
Yesterday, July 5, Garneau broke his silence and issued a press release
to defend himself, in which he said that there have been 225
inspections of the railway track between Farnham and
Lac-Mégantic since 2015, that is 45 per year. I said in an
interview that either the inspectors are blind or they are incompetent
and inconsistent, which I doubt, or the rules are not strict enough and
are too complacent toward the companies.
TMLW: Can you explain the
status of the bypass track?
stalled. What I have learned is that following the BAPE report in May
2019, many questions were raised about the environment with
regard to the route of the bypass as it crosses wetlands, which are
protected in Quebec. The Quebec Ministry of the Environment expressed
reservations on certain points and asked for clarification. And that is
where it gets stuck. Transport Canada issued a ruling last year on the
proposed expansion of the port of Quebec in Beauport Bay, where fish
will spawn. The court ruled that Quebec has no business interfering in
a federal jurisdiction. And now Transport Canada is using this ruling
to say that it does not have to take into account the environmental
concerns of the BAPE and the Quebec Department of the Environment.
In our opinion, the concerns raised about the
environment must be treated seriously. We must consider that the bypass
will cross rivers, streams, swamps and farmland. Ditches will be dug,
wooden ties soaked in creosote will be installed in these ditches and
it will flow into the Chaudière River.
The coalition's opinion is that this railroad
could be built with concrete ties. Concrete has an environmental impact
when you make it, but once it is placed in an environment, it is inert.
Look at the REM [Metropolitan Express Network] in
Montreal on the south shore, they used concrete ties. [REM is
a light rail rapid transit system under construction in the Greater
Montreal area -- TML Ed. Note] In Ontario, new railways are
also built on these types of sleepers. And here we are still using the
methods from the last century. It is important to know that wooden ties
have an average life of 20 to 30 years, whereas concrete can last more
than 50 years. Moreover, when the life of wooden ties is over, there
are still toxic products in them, PAHs -- polycyclic aromatic
hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic. To dispose of them, you have to
take them to a high-efficiency incinerator, so it costs a fortune to
get rid of them.
All the pressure we're putting on is to say that
the old railroad tracks are dangerous. We're not going to wait three
years. They have to be forced to speed up the process of creating the
bypass. We are told that it is planned for 2023.
TMLW: Do you
want to say anything in conclusion ?
RB: In the
absence of Transport Canada oversight, it is always the citizens who
remain vigilant. It is citizen involvement and action that remains to
ensure safety in the absence of Transport Canada's involvement. The
authorities are ignoring safety, so it is the citizens who must see to
We continue the fight. They said
the Mégantic people were resilient. We'll show them
what resilience is!
1. To view the video Lac-Mégantic,
a Railroad at the End of its Life click here.
To see a video on the reconstruction of Lac
Mégantic on a modern basis click here.
This article was published in
Volume 50 Number 25 - July 11, 2020
Citizen Action Essential to Ensure Rail Safety >