Saturday November 22, 2014

EDITORIAL: Rail safety is nothing to play with

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After a year that included a number of train derailments, along with a particularly scary incident in Lac Megantic, Que., where rail cars carrying crude oil extracted from the Bakken zone exploded, killing residents of the town as well as train personnel, a concern for nearly every community with railway tracks going through is rail safety.

The safety of the railway system in Canada is under the purview of Transport Canada, and in particular, the Transport Safety Board, which sets the safety standards that CP and CN Railways have to follow in their operations.

Their role has come under scrutiny after this particularly bad year, especially when it was shown that the oil being transported through the small Quebec town was not identified properly as to its volatility. This sort of mistake may not have caused the derailment, but the rail company could have adjusted accordingly how those rail cars were handled — so who knows what effect that might have had?

At the recent provincial convention for SUMA (Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association), the president and mayor of Weyburn, Debra Button, noted that discussion about rail safety was the buzz everywhere at the convention amongst the delegates, as so many towns and cities were established alongside rail lines; Weyburn was no different, with the Soo Line running alongside Highway 39 right through the middle of the city.

In Weyburn’s early history, there were train stations for passengers, bringing new settlers to the prairies, and several grain elevators dotted the land along Railway Avenue, as the railway played a vital role in the economy of the local area.

The railway is still important today, but for Weyburn it’s mostly in the movement of goods, particularly grain from the three large terminals located here.

Rail safety has to be a high priority for the federal government, as it has been; if there are changes or improvements needed to make it safer, in light of what happened in Lac Megantic, then those changes need to be forthcoming, particularly on lines handling the oil produced from the Bakken zone, known to be volatile due to the content of gas in the crude oil.

If some oil products are too volatile to be shipped by rail, then this should bolster the push for more pipelines to safely transport the oil to the East and to the markets in the United States.

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