Rail report alarming

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An investigation into a CN train derailment in Sturgeon County last month has some alarming news that should rattle people living along rail lines across the country.
The derailment that sent twelve loaded rail cars off the tracks near a Sturgeon County subdivision Oct. 22 was completely preventable.

A letter to CN from the Transportation Safety Board reveals that CN knew about a fractured rail line that caused the derailment. Only a month earlier a CN inspection had flagged that section of track for replacement and repair. Yet trains continued to shuttle daily across those same tracks. A month later a train derails, dumping 12 cars off the tracks within metres of a subdivision with two cars spilling 50 to 100 litres of crude oil. This sparked a temporary evacuation of the neighbourhood.

Thankfully the tar-like oil that spilled was less flammable than the type of oil that incinerated the community of Lac Megantic in 2013 killing 47 people. But what if the train had been travelling faster? What if it had more flammable cargo? Would residents and train operators have been so lucky?

Resident Dean Ozanne, who saw the train cars land some 20 feet from his property, was outraged by the news, calling  it completely irresponsible to run heavily loaded trains daily over condemned track.

Safety board spokesman Dan Holbrook said the board recommends CN replace its worn rails sooner. The section of Sturgeon County rail where the derailment happened was pretty much worn out, but had not yet been replaced. CN has apologized to area residents and said the repairs, slated for November, were made following the derailment.

But that is not good enough. Worn and/or fatigued rail lines need to be repaired as soon as they are discovered, especially where dangerous goods are transported. That is the bottom line. Where else in Canada is fractured rail an accident waiting for a place to happen? If this was allowed to happen here, where else are trains at risk of going off the tracks? This derailment raises doubts about public safety, not just in Sturgeon County.

Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said it was “alarming” that this line was still in use given the amount of wear on it.

“It’s next to a body of water, it’s next to a residential area. I’m just quite shocked. I’m not sure what (CN’s) safety measures are but I made it clear to them that I’m not happy with them.”

Hnatiw is right to be concerned. When repairs are noted, that rail line should be out of commission until they are fixed. The safety of people in the neighbourhoods and operators of the trains should be paramount.

Transport Canada is investigating this derailment and may take further action if it finds the Railway Safety Act has been violated.

Residents who live along rail lines across the country need assurances from CN and the regulators who govern rail safety that everything that can be done is being done, all day and every day, to ensure public safety. Next time we might not be so lucky.

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